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Message control: out of control

Investigating journalists who expose a secret CIA war; auditing the tax returns of political opponents; retaliating against whistleblowers: It sounds like 1972 all over again, no? Perhaps the constitutional lawyer who is president of the United States can come up with a response to each of these current controversies. Cumulatively, it suggests a frightening instinct at various levels in the federal government to control the message at all cost - and a president who is allowing it to happen.

The latest development is that the Justice Department secretly obtained two months of records for 20 phone accounts belonging to the Associated Press and various of its reporters and editors in three cities. This, in an effort to learn how a story got out about a CIA operation in Yemen. Further details from The AP:

The May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of the CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot occurred around the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.The plot was significant both because of its seriousness and also because the White House previously had told the public it had "no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the (May 2) anniversary of bin Laden's death."The AP delayed reporting the story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security. Once officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot, though the Obama administration continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.

The message control is out of control. 

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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Just Google "second term" or "second term curse." it happens too often to be coincidental, and it happens all over the place from familial (hello, Monica Lewinsky) to domestic (how about expanding the Supreme Court into a New Deal majority?) to international (calling Col. North) to near-space (U-2?).The good-for-nothing 22nd Amendment (the Republicans' earlier, posthumous Mitch McConelling of a president) made thing worse. It put a deadline on the president's men and women making friends with the mammon in iniquity. But it already was well established, as Mr. Jefferson's embargo (the O-grab-me Act) and Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations defeat should remind us of that. It isn't kismet; there are constant factors that affect it; but it is too regular to be an accident.The simple, bipartisan solution is, first, to remove the 22nd Amendment which institutionalized the curse of the second term, and then, second, never vote more than once for anybody for president.

If Bloomberg News and NewsCorp operatives can telephone snoop for business advantages, tell me why I should give a hoot about DoJ gathering tel numbers of AP reporters to stop airline bombings by terrorists. My phone and mail was tapped during the El Salvador sanctuary events in the 1980s.. I didn't even sweat, no less complain. . .

There's plenty to question in first terms as well: Truman's use of atomic weapons; Kennedy's Bay of Pigs; Ford's pardon of Nixon; Carter's hostage fiasco; the Beirut barracks bombing under Reagan; Clinton's health care failure; GWB's bamboozling on Iraq. And that's only the ones that come readily to mind just from my lifetime.The obvious solutions: (1) never vote even once for anybody for president, or, (2) design better humans.

O Schadenfreude O Schadenfreude!Thy happiness shines brightly!From base to summit, gay and brightTheres only merriment on the Right!O Schadenfreude O Schadenfreude!Thy happiness shines brightly!Cheers to "The most transparent administration in history"

JP (1:06) you are trying too hard. Second terms are full of unforced errors. The events you refer to almost all at least made sense at the time. If HST hadn't dropped the bomb, the lampposts of this great nation would have swayed under the weight of the hanging politicians who authorized the expense of the Manhattan Project but not the use of its product. The Nixon pardon made sense in terms of moving beyond, rather than prolonging, the nightmare. The health care failure, like W. Bush's drive to privatize social security in his second term, was a political failure but not an idiocy. The Bay of Pigs was recommended by the brightest and best before they even became the best and the brightest.But second terms are characterized by blockhead schemes everyone, including the Great Man's advisers and the brightest and best, can recognize in advance as walking disasters. The only thing you describe that comes close was leaving 240 Marines in Lebanon with no special reason for being there. The rest were arguably good ideas at the time.

" was leaving 240 Marines in Lebanon with no special reason for being there.'and the GOP can't stop plugging on about Benghazi. I say it's 50-50 that it eventually comes out that Ambassador Stevens was CIA. read his resume..

Now don't reporters often secretly obtain, and then print, classified information of the government? And isn't that exactly why the government secretly obtained the information about the reporters, because of media leaks of classified information? I'm not getting why reporters are upset that the government did something to them that they themselves do all of the time.

"JP (1:06) you are trying too hard." TB (2:09)Actually I was trying just about average. I did not say that the first-term actions were idiotic. I said they were questionable. If you think they were all just excellent, fine. But the Nixon pardon, for example, was highly controversial at the time, and as the capstone of the Watergate scandal, a first-term event which requires its own category of folly, it contributed to Ford's defeat in 1976 and to the shame of immunity for high officials which still plagues us. As for any recommendation from "the best and the brightest," surely you jest. And if there is a bigger blockhead scheme than the Iraq War in our recent history, I wish you would tell us what it is.Mistakes are pretty evenly distributed in Presidential history.

David Carr has some typically thoughtful points:"Part of the reason the Obama administration, which promised to be the most transparent in history, has become such a spectral presence is that it is facing cybersecurity threats like none other in history. Journalists, aided by computers, can find and surround any source they like. Leaked information, which used to have to be photocopied or whispered, can be dumped by the terabyte into drop boxes by organizations like WikiLeaks and sent everywhere in an instant."The full piece is here:

David Carr's comments are entirely too rational. How in the world will the drama grow if we let adult comments in the room?

John Prior: We dont even have to wait until the second term for this little exercise in Presidential shame:

Interesting point, Irene. Also, why should the mere phone numbers which reporters call be protected? It's not as if making a call alone reveals who said what in the phone call. Listening in would be another matter. The phone number of itself just reveals a potential source of some indefinite matter.

This is not an issue of message being out of control but the conduct of government officials being out of control. Government has power and it NEEDS to be restrained. This is why we have checks and balances and also why we have a free press.Ultimately the president is responsible for upholding the constitution (he swore to do so). That means both the letter and the spirit.

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