When it is examined in this way – the relation between the free and independent flow of information versus powerful, militaristic forces acting in secret and deceiving the public to build a fortress infrastructure capable of standing against the exercise of any popular will – then the question is re-framed in terms of some of the biggest headlines of the day.
Can it be that the achievements of whistle-blowers Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, and their news outlets Wikileaks and the Guardian, are setting a new standard for genuine journalism today? Certainly this notion has to make a lot of comfy newsmen, pundits and talking heads a bit uneasy, if not downright defensive and angry.
For them, it might stop with the notion of whether they would do likewise, were they in the positions of either Manning or Snowden, or whether the idea of getting caught, of being reviled and hounded by their government, and spending most of the rest of their lives in jail or exile. Oh no!
But it can’t be forgotten that the actual information that was uncovered and made public pertained to programs initiated during the criminal administration of President George W. Bush, involving two of the most excessive abuses of the democratic process in American history.
The first was the Patriot Act response to the terrorist assault of 9/11. That attack so traumatized the national psyche, so unaccustomed to such an egregious disruption of the nation’s merry pursuit of football and consumerism that almost no one in Washington, D.C. would dare even whisper any resistance to whatever potentially-abusing intrusions on the private lives of Americans our military establishment demanded as an aggressive, all-out response. There were objections then, but they were abruptly suppressed.
The second was the unprovoked U.S. invasion of Iraq and the massive atrocities associated with it, including the deaths of upwards of three-quarters of a million innocent civilians, the dismantling of a national political and economic infrastructure, and the devolution of that nation to lawlessness and ongoing terrorism and wanton murder.
Where was a robust U.S. journalistic phalanx when all of this began happening more than a decade ago? Where were our “watchdogs of democracy” then? They had become the lapdogs of the Bush administration, eagerly taking every bone tossed their way and passing it off as news to their constituents. The congressional politicians, by and large, weren’t any better.
With journalists in such a cowardly, docile posture, the late White House correspondent Helen Thomas, despite her advanced years, was one of the very few to call out her colleagues on this, including with her 2006 book that said it all in its title, Watchdogs of Democracy: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public.
Otherwise, there was nothing. The architects of the nation’s military and industrial complex, the same ones who squandered hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars on their lawless excesses in Iraq, were getting a jump start on building up the most massive domestic police infrastructure in the history of the world.
Now, only now, only because of Snowden, do we know this infrastructure is capable of intercepting and examining about 75 percent of all e-mails sent in the domestic U.S. How much more information about this grand octopus of potential tyranny will we discover, thanks to Snowden and the courage of some journalists willing to disseminate this information?
With the kind of police state apparatus now already in place in the U.S., Americans must live with the realization that any day, someone may get on everyone’s TV, radio, Twitter or Facebook account, or other data line and simply announce that an array of civil liberties have been suspended and will henceforth be illegal.
It may never happen. But it really could, which is almost as scary. At least we know that it could now, something which would never have come to light as long as our government was lulled in its playpen squabbles and dysfunction.