A canticle for Sulzberger

Hugh Hewitt sends a hoot of derision in the direction of David Remnick and his ludicrous New Yorker column “Nattering nabobs.” Hugh’s column is “The decline and fall of the bemoaning empire.” (Hugh interviews John Podhoretz on the Remnick column here.)

Remnick’s column provides a case study in liberal hysteria of the kind that Tom Wolfe mocked in his aphorism (recently recalled by Eugene Volokh): “The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.” Remnick ominously invokes the specter of Richard Nixon and the Pentagon Papers case to suggest that the Bush administration has set out to “stifle the press.” Here is Remnick’s summary of the events leading to the administration’s criticism of the Times:

Late last month, the Times published a long report by Lichtblau and Risen on the C.I.A.’s and the Treasury Department’s monitoring of an international banking database in Brussels to track the movement of funds by Al Qaeda. The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times very quickly followed with their own articles on the government’s monitoring of Al Qaeda’s financial transactions, which has been an open secret ever since it was trumpeted by––well, by George W. Bush, in mid-September, 2001. Infuriated that the editors of the Times had not acceded to blandishments to kill the story, Bush and Cheney, in a coördinated offensive, described the Times report as a disgrace and, outrageously, as a boon to further terror attacks.

Remnick assures us: “The Bush Administration can’t really believe that these newspaper stories have undermined the battle against Al Qaeda…” Why? Remnick doesn’t say, though it appears to derive from deep faith in the most recent sacred sayings of the powers-that-be at the Times. That the most recent sacred sayings of the Times conflict with the sacred sayings in the text of the Times terrorist finace tracking story itself appears not to trouble Remnick. He might more appropriately have headed his column “A canticle for Sulzberger.”

Remnick is a formidable writer and reporter. It is therefore a little shocking to read his summary of the Pentagon Papers case:

[P]ublication of the Papers, the White House argued, would compromise codes, threaten the safety of the nation, and shatter diplomatic relations with foreign countries. None of that happened. Meanwhile, the Court sided with the First Amendment. As Justice Hugo Black wrote, “The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic.”

How does Remnick know that publication of the Pentagon Papers did no harm to national security? In The Age of Reagan, Steve Hayward writes: “It is a matter of continuing controversy whether Ellsberg’s disclosure of the Petnagon Papers damaged U.S. security (for example by assisting Soviet codebreaking efforts)[.]” (Hayward also acknowledges that the Nixon administration arguably overreacted to the episode.) Moreover, Remnick falsely implies that the quoted statement from Black’s concurring opinion somehow reflects the law rather than Black’s idiosyncratic view. It doesn’t; it doesn’t even reflect the holding of the Court in the case. Will someone please get the word to Brother David?


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