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, September 28, 2006

Roger Ailes petulantly protests Clinton's "assault"

Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes has never complained about or criticized any of the following recent attacks by the Government on the press: statements by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that reporters can be imprisoned for the stories they write; accusations by a key GOP Congressman that New York Times reporters who published the SWIFT banking transactions should be prosecuted as "treasonous"; pursuit by the Bush administration of an unprecedented criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act designed to criminalize investigative journalism; the lawless detention, for more than 5 months now, by the U.S. military of AP photojournalist Bilal Hussein in Iraq; and the endless attacks and intimidation efforts directed at journalists by the right-wing blogosphere and pundits such as Bill Bennett.

But yesterday, finally, Roger Ailes courageously spoke out against what he complained was an act of "hatred for journalists" and "an assault on all journalists." What finally prompted Ailes to take such a brave and principled stand in defense of a free press? It was the tyrannical and supremely dangerous act whereby Bill Clinton refused to sit meekly by while Fox News hurled fictitious accusations at him in an attempt to steer blame away for the 9/11 attacks from the Leader and dump it on Clinton:

Fox News chief Roger Ailes says former President Clinton's response to Chris Wallace's question about going after Osama bin Laden represents "an assault on all journalists" . . . .

"If you can't sit there and answer a question from a professional, mild-mannered, respectful reporter like Chris Wallace, then the hatred for journalists is showing," Ailes said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. "All journalists need to raise their eyebrows and say, `hold on a second'". . . .

"They're out there saying (Wallace) was savage, he sandbagged (Clinton), he was taking orders on the question," Ailes said. "Chris Wallace has never taken orders on questions in his life. There's never been a discussion of that. I frankly think the assault on Chris Wallace is an assault on all journalists."

Just like the whining Ailes, Chris Wallace has been all over the air milking his newfound victimhood for all it is worth. After all, Bill Clinton refused to let Wallace interrupt, pointed his finger at Wallace, and even talked over him once or twice. What is left of the First Amendment?

Meanwhile, systematic threats and attacks directed at journalists by the Bush administration -- which, unlike Bill Clinton, happens to be the actual government with the full panoply of powers which that entails -- don't prompt Ailes, Wallace or any Bush followers to utter even a peep in protest. That discrepancy is too inane to warrant, or even permit, any real analysis.

What is notable, though, is that Bill Clinton's refusal to sit politely by -- or to respond only apologetically or defensively -- while Roger Ailes' propagandist dumped false accusations in his lap has provoked substantial anger and upset among Bush followers. The Fox News bullies, just like their fellow Bush followers on talk radio and in the right-wing blogosphere are, to borrow a phrase, paper tigers. When they are pushed back, they do what Wallace and Ailes and Bush followers generally have been doing in the wake of the Clinton interview -- stutter and whine and depict themselves as wounded victims who were treated so very unfairly by the Big Bad Wolf.

The notion that the 9/11 attacks ought to be blamed on an ex-President who tried repeatedly to kill Osama bin Laden, rather than on the individual who was President at the time and did nothing, is inane and factually false on its face. And Americans know that full well, as a newly released Gallup poll conclusively demonstrates. Even Rudy Guiliani, generally hailed as the Official Owner of all things 9/11, joined in the grave "assault" on poor Fox News: "The idea of trying to cast blame on President Clinton is just wrong for many, many reasons, not the least of which is I don't think he deserves it . . . "

But that is the propagandistic tripe that is disseminated every day on Fox News, often right in front of the faces of Democrats who meekly and apologetically try hard to explain it away. But Bill Clinton wasn't meek about anything and he stomped on, rather than tried to explain away, the falsehoods spewing out of Chris Wallace's mouth.

Fire and brimstone didn't rain down on his head as a result. Instead, Clinton looked resolute and aggressive compared to the whiny, slouched, stuttering Wallace and his victim-protector comrades on Fox News and in the Bush follower crowd. Clinton's willingness to articulate his case clearly and strongly exposed the accusations for what they are. Since those sorts of tactics are the staple of Fox News' "journalism," it is no wonder that Roger Ailes hilariously equates Clinton's interview responses to an "assault on journalism," even as Ailes cheers on the Government and the Bush movement which have made actual, real attacks on press freedoms a centerpiece of their authoritarian agenda.

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I will be on Warren Olney's To the Point at 2:10 p.m. EDT this afternoon to talk about torture , permanent detention powers and related matters. The live audio feed is here. It never ceases to amaze, at least not yet, that in the United States, one now even has to "talk about torture and permanent detention powers," let alone watch as those powers are legally and formally vested in the President. The panel will include the DLC's Will Marshall (a Joe Lieberman-type neoconservative whom Matt Taibbi analyzed quite incisively and entertainingly here) and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institute.

UPDATE: This whole column from Dallas Morning News columnist Mark Davis contains whiny protests like this: "'You did Fox's bidding.' 'You did your nice little conservative hit job on me.'" These bizarre interjections were an attempt to intimidate Mr. Wallace and any future interviewers who might dare to question the Clinton commitment to fighting terror."

Threats against investigative journalists from the Bush administration to be criminally prosecuted and the indefinite detention of foreign journalists are all perfectly fine. To Bush followers, there is nothing "intimidating" about any of that (because they only praise the Leader and therefore are not at risk). But a few un-nice answers from Bill Clinton in an interview constitutes a pattern of scary "intimidation" that will stifle free inquiry.

It's hard to put into words how effete and fragile and self-absorbed the Bush following "journalists" are. They're not bothered in the least by real persecution of their colleagues, but they whine and cry and self-victimize because someone criticizes the questions they ask and the accusations they make.

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