Flare-up in shouting war: Left column | VailDaily.com

Flare-up in shouting war: Left column

Matt Zalaznick

The media loves anointing heroes – firefighters and cops are heroes, all members of the armed services are heroes, anyone who survives a terrorist attack, hurricane or kidnapping is a hero. Is the media too wimpy these days to recognize the heroism of one of its own? New York Times reporter Judith Miller, now in jail for not revealing a sensitive source, deserves the media’s reverence. In fact, she deserves the admiration and gratitude of all Americans. For her troubles, she should get to do a live, nationally-broadcast interview with Robert Novak, the fatuous Republican shill whose leak landed Miller in jail. She should ask him if, once the threat of incarceration loomed, he quickly named the person who helped him endanger the life of an American intelligence officer. But Novak’s never faced jail time, so it’s hard to imagine he didn’t give his source up right away to the grand jury. Maybe Novak and his source had an agreement: Novak does his hatchet job and puts Valerie Plame’s name in his column and the source makes Novak’s appearance before the grand jury go smoothly. Miller’s jailing doesn’t seem to be alarming Americans. Probably because the media in recent years – in its coverage of celebrity trials, the murders of young white women and even Sept. 11 – have become more about entertainment than edification.And that’s why people have forgotten that aggressive, skeptical reporters are not amenities of our democracy. They are a vital part of our democracy’s foundation. The other pillars of American democracy – a military controlled by civilians, the balance of power, our election system, our Constitution – would either collapse or drift toward tyranny without the vigilance of the media. The hallmark of a country that isn’t free are news organizations that aren’t free. Reporters go to jail in places like China and Iran – and the United States. The recent unmasking of “Deep Throat” should remind the country of how critical anonymous sources are when reporters are trying to expose criminal abuse of executive power. And in this story Miller was pursuing – but never wrote about – it appears a law was broken by a member of the Bush administration. Whisteblowers who would tell their secrets to the press have to trust reporters will keep promises of anonymity. Some of the stories they have to tell are too important: someone, for instance, who knows about a critical flaw in airline security procedures or some other threat that’s being ignored. But the media are not the only axis of the balance-of-power under attack: — The courts: James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, Tom DeLay of Texas and other congressional Republican ideologues are ready to blacklist independent judges, whether Democrat or Republican, who refuse impose the stiffest sentences or consult Christian scripture before making their rulings.– Voting: Exercising this right can be more difficult if you live in a neighborhood where minorities are the majority, and even if you manage to cast your ballot, there’s no guarantee it will get counted properly. — The military: The civilian leaders, bent on bouncing Saddam, lied to the American people and their troops to win their support for a phony war. These civilian leaders – shocked and awed by their own rhetoric, and the gossip fed them by their own secret source, the aptly named Curvebal – also forgot to plan for anything after the initial invasion.Judith Miller was among those whose reporting was criticized for not being skeptical enough of the administration’s war cries. Ironically, she was faulted for using poor sources. Why don’t Americans demand that political leaders stick to those tenets of the balance of power that our middle school teachers told us were the most basic and inalienable ingredients of the American Way? It’s Americans who are threatened if the balance of power is whacked out of alignment by a lame-duck president and a wickedly out-of-touch vice president kowtowing to their base. It’s Americans who won’t be told of criminal activity in the White House. It’s Americans who rights will be trampled on if Congress badgers judges into using religious parables rather than legal precedent to dispense justice. And it’s Americans whose life, liberty and pursuit of happiness will be jeopardized – by terrorist attacks on the homefront and by roadside bombs in the Middle East – if future presidents send our troops into vanity wars that infuriate, dispossess and kill the very people upon whom we are supposed to be bestowing democracy and Western conveniences Remember, al-Qaida didn’t show up in Iraq until after we did. Perhaps if Miller, and war planners like Donald Rumsfeld, had better pre-war sources, we might never have gone to Iraq at all. City Editor Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or mzalaznick@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado

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