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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Rep. Kline avoids being sued in the Murtha/Haditha lawsuit by apologizing

In order to avoid being named as a co-defendant in the defamation lawsuit brought by a Haditha Marine against Jack Murtha, Republican Congressman John Kline issued an apology for statements he made accusing the Marines of murder and of lying about their actions. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a reasonably accurate discussion of how all of that came about, including the role played by this blog in causing Kline to be "dragged in" to the controversy.

Kline's apology (the full text of which is here) is rather equivocal regarding his own culpability and he seeks to blame others for his actions. He mostly insists, of course, that his statements were taken out of context: "Some news outlets have promoted incomplete statements attributed to me that gave the false impression that I have concluded those involved committed unlawful acts." And according to the Star-Tribune article, with regard to the quotes of his which I posted here, Kline "said all of the quotes attributed to him were accurate but, in some cases, out of context."

This was one of Kline's statements, as reported by The Los Angeles Times on May 27 (not available online; quote confirmed by Nexis): "'There is no question that the Marines involved, those doing the shooting, they were busy in lying about it and covering it up — there is no question about it,' Kline said." I'd love to know if that is one of the statements which Kline claims was taken "out of context."

From the plaintiff's strictly legal perspective, Kline's apology is understandably satisfactory, since it contains statements such as: "I want to express my sincere apology to the Marines of the 1st Squad. . . and especially SSgt Frank D. Wuterich" and "the involved Marines deserve to be considered absolutely innocent until proven guilty." According to the Marine's lawyer, Mark Zaid, Kline's apology (the wording of which was, presumably, negotiated with Zaid) is satisfactory and means that Kline has avoided being added as a defendant. The Star-Tribune quotes Zaid as follows: "We're absolutely satisfied that his statement [of apology] reflects the Marine officer we thought he was."

This incident is illustrative of the intense frustration that comes from being subjected to the sloth and patent inaccuracy of so much of the media coverage of political controversies. One listens to and reads endless attacks on Jack Murtha's character and motives for the statements he made about Haditha, and while the media disseminates these attacks, they never once mention that pro-war Republican Congressman Kline -- also a former Marine -- made similar, and in some cases more emphatically accusatory, statements about Haditha.

Journalists who write about the Haditha killings and specifically about the controversy surrounding Murtha's comments ought to have known that. Kline's statements were everywhere, and it requires only the smallest amount of reasoning and scrutiny to see that the Republican attacks on Murtha for these statements made no sense and were profoundly dishonest given that Kline said virtually the same thing, a fact which was never noted. But journalists routinely echo attacks of the type launched against Murtha without scrutinizing them. As much as anything else, it is this failure on the part of the national media -- to do more than merely recite what government officials and political operatives say -- that accounts for the rising influence of blogs in analyzing political events.

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