Every year there are a few events that fly under the radar of the media but have a seminal impact nonetheless. Six PJ Media columnists agreed to contribute their knowledge and expertise to tell us what they consider to be the most underreported domestic news stories of 2013.
Last week, we featured the most underreported foreign news stories of 2013. Next week, we’ll feature more PJ Media columnists giving us their thoughts on what the most surprising story of 2014 will be.
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ROGER L. SIMON
As in the title of Bernie Slade’s 1978 Broadway hit Same Time, Next Year, the great underreported, or really unreported, story from 2013 is the same one it was in 2012 and for three years or more before that. But unlike in Slade’s sexy comedy, nobody’s having any fun, at least not now.
And we all know what that story is if we think about it for ten seconds. To put it bluntly: nobody knows nothin’ about the president of the United States, aka the leader of the free world. And what little we do know is highly uninformative and often contradictory.
In a world where every phone call, email, text message, Tweet, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook post, YouTube, Vimeo, LinkedIn link, Google + post, blog post, semaphore, morse code, Braille, and probably burp has been recorded digitally for posterity and beyond, nobody knows what Barack Obama even got in freshman English. (Well, maybe the NSA does, but they’re not telling.)
Does this matter? I don’t know – and that’s the point. In an administration that once proclaimed that it would be transparent like no other, but now has lied like no other, one can only guess.
Obama’s unseen college and graduate school records (Occidental, Columbia, Harvard Law) are only one part of the Mystery of the Shrouded POTUS – another is the Khalidi tape, its possibly anti-Israel contents locked in a vault at the L.A. Times – but those academic records are certainly a significant part.
Now I realize that, according to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), we are not supposed to be able to obtain someone’s transcript without his or her permission. But why hasn’t Obama given his? I can’t think of another politician on the presidential level who hasn’t. And many of them have not been, shall we say, stellar. The luckless Rick Perry revealed his mediocre grades at Texas A&M within a day or two of announcing. Bush and Kerry, pushed somewhat, as I recall, by the N.Y. Times, finally disclosed their undistinguished Yale C grades. That Bush squeaked out a slightly better average than Kerry evidently embarrassed the Times that buried the story. The less said about Al “Global Warming” Gore’s D in geology the better.
Yes, I realize a few pols have done well in school. Clinton and Jindal were Rhodes scholars, so we can assume good grades (although one wonders if Bill, ahem, cheated). But in general politicians are not, as the cliché goes, rocket scientists, so it’s curious that Obama would be so ashamed of his grades, no matter what they were. So, again, why the secrecy? Does he have something else to hide connected with his academic transcript? Theories abound. I don’t need to go into them here.
But more important to the subject of this symposium, why hasn’t the press asked him why he does not release his transcript? Has even one of those hard-hitting reporters in the White House press room ever deigned to inquire even once? Or have they been too afraid to ask?
That’s a rhetorical question, I know. The real question is WHY are they afraid to ask about his college transcript? We can assume that some are afraid because they fear the answer, if a true one were eventually forthcoming, would humiliate them, that it would run counter to the narrative they had told themselves and others since, in all probability, early adolescence. A massive lie would be unmasked in which they had aided and abetted in the telling.
The press at the end of 2013 is at a remarkable moment. It may be – we don’t know yet – that the unreported story of 2103 (and five years previous) may finally be reported in 2014. Due to a number of factors – the Obamacare lies among them – a critical mass is forming that wants to know the truth. Whether they get it is another question. But whatever the result, a comprehensive – and accurate – biography of Barack Obama, whenever it is published, may be one of the best sellers of all time. I, for one, will certainly be anxious to read it.
Los Angeles-based Roger L. Simon is the author of ten novels, including the prize-winning Moses Wine detective series, and seven screenplays, including Enemies: A Love Story for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. The 2012 Academy Award-nominated release A Better Life was based on his original story. He served as president of the West Coast branch of PEN and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America. Mr. Simon was on the faculty of the American Film Institute and the Sundance Institute. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the Yale School of Drama. In February 2009, he published his first non-fiction book – Turning Right at Hollywood and Vine: The Perils of Coming Out Conservative in Tinseltown. The Party Line, a stage play Mr. Simon co-wrote with his wife Sheryl Longin was published by Criterion Books in November 2012. He is the co-founder and CEO emeritus of PJ Media. He blogs at pjmedia.com/rogerlsimon.
One of the most underreported domestic stories of 2013 was the eclipse of tolerance as a prime liberal virtue and its enrollment in the index of unpermissible reactionary vices.
Now, it might seem odd to say this story was “underreported.” After all, these last couple of weeks have been full of headlines about a conspicuous example of this process: I mean the controversy over Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson. Let me begin with an aside. As I write, that particular controversy is just about to be swallowed up by the oblivion marked “yesterday’s news.” Already, it may be difficult to bring details of the story into focus. So remember what happened: Robertson gave an interview to GQ magazine. The interview was mostly a color piece in which the city-slicker GQ editor goes shooting with the camouflaged-accoutered, pogonophilic sexagenarian in the Louisiana wilds. So far, so good.
But the piece was not only about Phil Robertson’s exotic world — exotic, anyway, to GQ metropolitan audience. It was also about the world according to Phil Robertson. And that world — it is at once integral to Duck Dynasty’s oddity and the engine of its wild popularity — is the world as understood by a self-described “Bible-thumping,” “white trash” Christian. That is, Phil Robertson and his family not only dress in a way that is foreign to 99.976 percent of GQ’s audience, not only are their avocations and diet and taste in facial hair foreign, but their beliefs about the world, about good and evil, about how we should — and very much how we shouldn’t — live our lives seem deeply odd to GQ’s audience as well. For the most part, the oddity produces an agreeable frisson of difference. For the most part. But, as all the world knows now, among the many things Phil Robertson offered his opinions about in that GQ interview was sexuality, including homosexuality. Robertson does not approve of homosexuality. Nor does he approve of bestiality or promiscuity.
It may still be possible to disapprove publicly of bestiality and promiscuity. I stress the subjunctive: it may be. I would not be at all surprised to discover that there are enlightened humanities departments at expensive colleges where bestiality and promiscuity are this week’s transgressive specialité de la maison. But homosexuality is one of those subjects — race is another, differences among the sexes is a third — that has been enveloped in a cocoon of politically correct Newspeak. If you violate the cocoon, prepare for ostracism or worse.
What happened to Phil Robertson was typical. GLAAD, the homosexual and “transgender” activist group, attacked him and called on the A&E network, which airs Duck Dynasty, to cancel the show. A&E promptly responded, suspending Robertson.
So far, this was just business as usual in the precincts of our society dominated by so-called “liberal” (really, it’s deeply illiberal) intolerance. GLAAD repudiated Phil Robertson because he said things GLAAD described as “vile” and “extremist.” But what had he said? That in his view homosexuality — like promiscuity, like bestiality — was a sin. Robertson was quick to acknowledge that that he, too, was a sinner: at one time his life had been ruled by sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. Now he was a changed man. But while he might disapprove, he did not judge: “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus.”
Such admissions cut no mustard with GLAAD. Robertson had expressed impermissible opinions. Therefore he must be punished. Never mind that his opinions were merely restatements of what has been mainstream moral teaching in the West for millennia. Robertson violated the current politically correct dispensation. He must be silenced.
There has been a lot written about this latest chapter in the saga of politically correct intolerance. Among the very best are two pieces by Mark Steyn, both in National Review Online. In the first, “The Age of Intolerance,” Steyn underscores the “totalitarian” aspect of this allotrope of progressive political correctness: “thug groups like GLAAD increasingly oppose the right of Christians even to argue their corner,” he points out. “It’s quicker and more effective to silence them.”
In the second piece, “Re-education Camp,” Steyn offers a blistering response to a craven and obtuse objection from one of his editors at NR. “I’m not inclined to euphemize intimidation and bullying as a lively exchange of ideas,” Steyn writes with characteristic forthrightness.
But despite the abundant commentary the Robertson-GLAAD-A&E controversy has attracted, there is more to be said.
Two points. First, the episode got a surprise twist this weekend when, bowing to pressure from Robertson’s multitudinous fans and supporters, A&E announced that it was reinstating Robertson and pushing forward with the show. GLAAD, of course, blasted the decision. And A&E’s announcement was itself a masterpiece of inadvertent comedy in its rhetorical pretzel of emetic bloviation: “A&E Networks’ core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect. . . . We will also use this moment to launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company, and the values found in Duck Dynasty.”
Ah, yes, “tolerance.” That brings me to point two: notwithstanding the vociferous public support for Robertson and criticism of A&E and GLAAD, this twist in the story should not blind us to the fate of tolerance in the metabolism of our social life. “Tolerance” was once a, perhaps the prime, liberal virtue. But it has long since been enrolled in the index prohibitorum of reactionary vices. The great thing about tolerance was the moral breathing space it provided. A liberal might tolerate what he disapproved of because he advocated pluralism, or because he valued freedom, or because he believed in free speech. The problem for illiberal “liberals” — that is, for politically correct totalitarians who mouth progressive sentiments to camouflage their fundamental intolerance with liberal plumage — is that tolerance implies criticism. One tolerates something despite one’s aesthetic or moral or intellectual or political disapproval. Gaining tolerance was only the first, ultimately dispensable, step in a process that eventually jettisoned tolerance for the goal of uncritical celebration and affirmation. That is what “thug groups” like GLAAD want: not tolerance but celebration and moral parity. Tolerance is a conspicuous obstacle to those desiderata; therefore, tolerance must be met with intolerance.
That, I believe, is more or less where we are today, no matter the local victory of Phil Robertson and Sarah Palin against the politically correct commissars who would police our speech and the moral weather of our society. This is a story that is underreported because we are a long way from facing up to its implications. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, our society oscillates between a breathtaking latitudinarianism about certain things when expressed in an approved manner by approved groups and an almost puritanical astringency and intolerance about other things. Your local newsstand, to say nothing of your local internet connection, offers a smorgasbord of lubricious fare that would have been considered beyond the pale, and often outside the law, a few short decades ago. But set foot on almost any college campus and you will soon find that the proclaimed “commitment to diversity” really means subscribing to speech codes and adhering to an agenda of intellectual conformity about any contentious issue.
This is where political correctness comes in. Liberals sacrifice their commitment to liberalism when they subscribe to political correctness. The question is: why do they do it? A large part of the answer lies in the fact that they do not believe that their political opinions are only their political opinions. They believe instead that their view of the world is the view that any right-thinking (which also means, any left-leaning) person would believe. Hence, any serious dissent from that view is regarded not as a challenge but as a heresy. One replies to a challenge. One endeavors to stamp out a heresy.
To some extent, what I am talking about is part of a larger antinomy of liberalism. At the center of liberalism is the doctrine of tolerance. But tolerance absolutized spells the end, first, of tolerance, and, then, of liberalism itself. The problem for liberals in the era of political correctness has been holding fast to positive values that can survive the corrosive bath of absolutized tolerance. Their failure exposes them, on one side, to moral impotence and, on the other, to a species of moral totalitarianism.
Two final observations. Back in the 1920s, John Fletcher Moulton, a British jurist, articulated a principle he called “obedience to the unenforceable.” All social life, he observed, took place on a spectrum between absolute freedom at one end and positive law at the other. In some areas of life we are completely free to do whatever we like. In others, we are constrained by the coercive power of the state about what we must and must not do. In between, was a vast realm, more or less free, more or less restrained, governed not by law or by whim but by custom, manners, taste, convention — the domain, said Moulton, of “obedience to the unenforceable.” “The real greatness of a nation,” he wrote, “its true civilization, is measured by the extent of this land of obedience to the unenforceable. It measures the extent to which the nation trusts its citizens, and its area testifies to the way they behave in response to that trust.” Already in the 1920s, Moulton worried about the incursion on this intermediate realm of ordered liberty from increasing statism, on one side, and increasing anarchy on the other. Now, nearly 100 years on, we have traveled far down that road. The intermediate realm that Moulton praises has been further and further compressed. This has tended to erase the critical difference between the idea that one can do something — i.e., that no law prohibits it — and that one may do it. “There can,” Moulton observes, “be no more fatal error than this.”
Between “can do” and “may do” ought to exist the whole realm which recognizes the sway of duty, fairness, sympathy, taste, and all the other things that make life beautiful and society possible. It is this confusion between “can do” and “may do” which makes me fear at times lest in the future the worst tyranny will be found in democracies. Interests which are not strongly represented in parliament may be treated as though they had no rights by Governments who think that the power and the will to legislate amount to a justification of that legislation. Such a principle would be death to liberty. No part of our life would be secure from interference from without. If I were asked to define tyranny, I would say it was yielding to the lust of governing. It is only when Governments feel it an honorable duty not to step beyond that which was in reality, and not only in form, put into their hands that the world will know what true Freedom is.
Moulton’s celebration of the civilizing climate of the land of obedience to the unenforceable, and his anatomy of those imperatives that were diminishing the extent and commodiousness of that realm, have great pertinence to the prospect before us. There is a lot more to be said about Moulton’s observations, especially about how his ideas might provide a sort of prophylactic against the corrosive, freedom-blighting intrusions of political correctness. But for now I’d like to conclude by placing this latest episode of politically correct madness in a broader cultural context. In 1994, Irving Kristol, in an essay called “Countercultures,” observed that
“Sexual liberation” is always near the top of a countercultural agenda — though just what form the liberation takes can and does vary, sometimes quite widely. Women’s liberation, likewise, is another consistent feature of all countercultural movements —liberation from husbands, liberation from children, liberation from family. Indeed, the real object of these various sexual heterodoxies is to disestablish the family as the central institution of human society, the citadel of orthodoxy.
This brings us pretty close, I believe, to what is at stake in the controversy over Phil Robertson and those who would silence him. Advocates of liberal intolerance believe that we — all we progressive, pajama-boy, politically correct elites — are finished with that “citadel of orthodoxy” and the traditional moral dispensation it relies upon. Perhaps the real question, however, is whether that moral dispensation is done with us.
In addition to his work at PJ Media and The New Criterion, Kimball is the publisher of Encounter Books a purveyor of serious non-fiction titles from a broadly construed conservative perspective. He also writes criticism for many outlets here and in England. He blogs at Roger’s Rules.
On the next page, Ed Driscoll offers his take on the most underreported domestic news story of 2013.
Call them “the ‘mainstream’ media,” the “legacy media,” “old media,” or whatever you like, the most underreported domestic news story of 2013 was the complete collapse of their credibility. It’s this year’s most underreported story, because the media rarely report on their fellow compatriots’ errors out of professional courtesy. For example, in 2004, Tom Brokaw and the late Peter Jennings both defended Dan Rather in the scandal that played a distinct role in the creation of our Website’s original name, but in both cases, the rest of us know the media’s credibility took major hits nonetheless.
Let’s review some of the latest mile markers on the media’s path to perdition.
It began in 2012 with two gun-related stories: The MSM transforming George Zimmerman into the world’s first “white Hispanic” (or “Peruvian-American” if you prefer) when he was attacked by Trayvon Martin. Then their similar lockstep reaction to the shooting by Adam Lanza in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
In the past, the MSM were only too happy to publicly announce that they loathed the Second Amendment; these days they’re happy to tell you how much they hate the rest of the Constitution as well. At the conclusion of 2012, the New York Times ran an op-ed — by a would-be professor of constitutional law no less — titled, “Let’s Give Up on the Constitution.” Such advice would have been unthinkable to Adolph Ochs, Arthur Sulzberger, James Reston, and the other men who built the New York Times of the first half of the 20th century. Not to mention President Calvin Coolidge, who said on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence:
Coolidge praised the Declaration’s words on human equality, natural rights, and consent of the governed. America was the first nation founded on those principles. July 4, 1776, the day when they were formally expressed, “has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history” and “an incomparable event in the history of government.”
For Coolidge, these principles spelled security. They were final. “No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions,” he said. To deny the self-evident truths of the Declaration would take America “backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people.”
Flash-forward nearly 90 years, and that last sentence reads like a how-to guide for the 21st century left, including most in the news media. And they’re well prepared to use deception to accomplish their aims. Beginning 2013 where they left off the previous year, NBC deceptively edited an appearance by the father of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting, who said of his audience at a town council meeting, “why anybody in this room needs to have one of these assault-style weapons or military weapons or high-capacity clips.” When someone responded that the reason is because the “Second Amendment shall not be infringed,” this was deemed “heckling,” in part because NBC edited the video to make those responding to the victim’s query appear as if they were angrily interrupting, by moving the video’s timeline around, just as they did in 2012 with George Zimmermann’s 911 call.
Around the time that the Gray Lady abandoned the Constitution, NBC’s David Gregory violated the District of Columbia’s strict and punitive anti-Second Amendment laws by bringing an empty ammunition magazine onto the set of Meet the Press, for the purpose of taunting Wayne LaPierre of the NRA. Instead, the ploy backfired; whereas Don Knotts’ Barney Fife character could get into a whole heap of cornpone trouble with just one bullet in his pocket, Gregory became the first newsman to shoot himself in the foot with no bullets. “David Gregory intended to demonstrate on Meet the Press what he regards as the absurdity of America’s lax gun laws,” Mark Steyn wrote at the time. “Instead, he’s demonstrating the ever-greater absurdity of America’s non-lax laws.”
A couple of weeks later, naturally, Gregory was spared from charges by the D.C. police, because, as George Orwell would say, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” And having abandoned his humanity to advance his career, no animal considers himself more equal than a beast in old media. However, the audience knows it as well, which is why Gregory’s ratings have collapsed, as has viewership of NBC as a whole; early in 2013, Deadline Hollywood reported that the network finished fifth in the ratings, falling behind not just the Fox entertainment channel — but the Spanish Telemundo channel as well. In October, the beleaguered network was seventh in the ratings. Come back Fred Silverman, all is forgiven!
In October and November, as the Obamacare-related insurance cancellation notices went into the mail, and millions discovered that they couldn’t keep the insurance plans they liked, all of the big three TV networks and CNN were suddenly revealed as frauds, having spun as hard for the president’s signature bill as Mr. Obama himself during the first two years of his administration: CBS read poetry on the air on its behalf, ABC ran Obamacare infomercials, and CNN invited high school kids into the studio to sing pro-Obamacare propaganda, when the network wasn’t baking cakes to promote the “stimulus” program. However, in late November of this year, Mark Halperin of Time magazine, published by the same conglomerate that owns CNN, admitted that death panels were built into Obamacare, thus countering years of anti-Palin hatred from his fellow Time journalists, including as recently as September 10th of this year, when Time claimed, “Sarah Palin Won’t Let ‘Death Panels’ Die.”
Speaking of the MSM’s hatred of Palin, to paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche, when you stare into the abyss, Martin Bashir stares back at you — and offers up his scatological fetishes. His MSNBC segment on November 15th, the script for which was presumably approved by his producer and loaded into Bashir’s teleprompter without question by a production assistant, will be studied for years by sociologists, wondering how it was ever approved for air by MSNBC and, much more importantly, how a once great nation and its once great news media could have fallen from such lofty heights to this low point in its broadcasting history.
Prior to Bashir’s implosion, at least when the media attempted to transform Palin into the distaff equivalent of 1984’s Emmanuel Goldstein, she was a public figure — a former governor of one of America’s largest states and a former vice presidential nominee. 2013 saw a move from attacking public figures to demonizing private ones as well. BuzzFeed ended their year by destroying a woman with less than 200 Twitter followers for her Sarah Silverman-esque snarky tweet, temporarily mutating Twitter into something resembling the torch- and pitchfork-carrying crowds from a 1930s Universal horror movie in the process.
The ideology and its news media that called itself “liberalism” during the mid-20th century once took pride in “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” Today’s equivalent — both leftwing elitists and their representatives in the media — derive much more satisfaction in their efforts to “Target the Powerless; Protect Powerful Liars, Bigots & Race Hoaxers.” That was the headline on a piece by John Nolte of Big Journalism in the summer of 2013, after Oprah Winfrey accused a saleswoman of racism, a heretofore unknown rodeo clown wearing a presidential mask was accused of racism, and a cooking show hostess found herself off the air, after accusations of racism several decades past.
A media angry that the president whom they had worked so tirelessly to elect in 2008 and 2012 turned out to be far less than “the next messiah” that Barbara Walters recently admitted that they had hoped for, will likely be on the lookout for plenty more heretofore unknown scalps to hang on their walls in 2014. As far as the MSM is concerned, it’s the public’s fault that Obama failed. We as a people must be punished for being unworthy of Our Leader.
And what’s to stop them? It’s not like the media has standards, a reputation, or decorum left to protect. On the Friday before Christmas, after one of the president’s rare press conferences, and perhaps envious that A&E was able to (at least temporarily) destroy Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, CNN initially ran an article whose headline and lede regarding the president’s signature health care act initially claimed, before correction, that Obama said that he “screwed the duck.”
The president was far from alone in that department this year.
As PJM’s own Victor Davis Hanson wrote on Christmas Eve, “the members of the national press corps do not even now quite get it that they have been completely discredited. …. We have three years before January 2017. If we are to have any credible press left at all, it has just 36 months to rediscover its ethics and professionalism — or more or less forfeit its integrity for a generation.”
I know which side of the ledger I’m placing my bets.
Ed Driscoll has a long history with PJ Media. He was part of our original network of bloggers when PJM was founded in 2005, produced our weekly show on Siriux-XM when it aired from 2007 through 2010, and he appeared at the 2008 Republican Convention in Minneapolis in the first interviews produced by PJTV. So, in a sense, it was a natural outcome for Ed to become a PJ Columnist in early 2009. He’s also our San Jose editor, and he founded the PJ Lifestyle blog last year. He blogs at pjmedia.com/eddriscoll.
Up next, J. Christian Adams proffers what in his opinion was the most significant underreported story of 2013.
J. CHRISTIAN ADAMS
The most significant underreported story of 2013 is the left’s launch of the Democracy Initiative.
Mother Jones headlined a story about the launch as the “Massive New Liberal Plan to Remake American Politics.” Despite labeling the effort as “the kind of meeting that conspiratorial conservative bloggers dream about,” very few conservative bloggers even know about it. Legacy media has devoted zero attention to the launch.
The Democracy Initiative seeks to alter process in three areas: 1) bloating the voter rolls and attacking election integrity laws, 2) restricting the filibuster, 3) restricting political speech through restricting financial participation.
The groups launching the plan are the heavyweights of the left, and they pledged millions of dollars to the effort. They include the SEIU, AFL-CIO, NAACP, Sierra Club, Common Cause, Center for American Progress, Demos, and more.
Notice how the left focuses on process. Conservatives focus on substance and ideas, and they think they are awfully noble for doing so.
Unfortunately, noble losers don’t enact policy, and the progressive left knows it.
The left knows that altering the process rules produces substantive polices. Notice how Al Franken became the 60th vote for Obamacare in the Senate because felons in Minnesota took advantage of a process rule – same-day registration – to illegally vote for Franken. Ask defeated Virginia attorney general candidate Mark Obenshain about the thousands of felons that fellow Republican Governor Bob McDonnell allowed to vote, ultimately contributing to GOP defeat in 2013.
The left knows that bloated voter rolls and the lack of voter ID requirements make it more likely they will win close elections.
Look at the scoreboard since the launch in January of the Democracy Initiative:
The IRS has promulgated new regulations which will undo free speech rights secured by the Supreme Court.
The filibuster is dead and more radicalized nominees can now be confirmed with a bare majority.
Eric Holder’s Justice Department is attacking election integrity measures across the United States and allowing voter rolls to bloat without any federal response. Indeed, Holder is suing states to force them to go beyond what federal law requires in registering welfare recipients and even crack treatment center patients to vote. Obamacare itself is being turned into a GOTV device.
The Democracy Initiative is already batting 3 for 3, even without burning the millions pledged by the left.
What is the conservative or Republican response?
Weak — in part because few understand the left’s focus on process. Most still think ideas and substance determine outcomes and do not comprehend the left’s fixation on these process rules.
Republicans even have some of their own in Congress who seek to limit political speech or return powers to Eric Holder to block state election integrity laws.
Whenever millions of dollars are devoted to changing the mechanics of elections to aid the left, to limit political speech, and to usher radicalized nominees through the Senate, you’d think there would be more coverage. But the Democracy Initiative and its goals barely touched the pages of conservative media in 2013. Something designed to “remake America” deserves more attention.
An election lawyer who served in the Voting Rights Section at the U.S. Department of Justice, Christian is part of the rare brotherhood of uniquely American heroes: the whistleblowers. He has helped expose the Department of Justice’s failure to prosecute the radical New Black Panthers group, and he co-authored PJ Media’s “Every Single One” series that revealed the politicized hiring practices of the Obama Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. He blogs at Rule of Law.
Finally, PJ Washington’s Bridget Johnson and Bill Straub conclude our year-end wrap-up on the next page.
In my 16 years as a journalist, I’ve always had particular passion for the defense of a free press. This usually has meant helping draw attention to the plight of imprisoned journalists in Vietnam and China, the brutal slayings of reporters from Latin America to Russia, and the struggles of news professionals and citizen journalists alike to tell the truth in fledgling democracies or revolutionary hotbeds such as Afghanistan and Libya. It humbles us to realize the great personal sacrifice and risk that our colleagues halfway across the world willingly accept for the right to freely report a story.
In 2013, that gap between these two worlds of journalism, what we consider the oppressed world and one that cherishes freedom of the press, uncomfortably narrowed. It’s an oft-spoken rule in newsrooms that you try to not make the news organization the story, but that can also mean letting the canary in the coal mine go unattended while a free press and freedom of information take hits that ripple across the rest of the rights we all cherish.
The Associated Press phone records scandal came in a wave of the year’s other big scandals, and the wire service fittingly broke the story itself in May. The government tapped more than 20 phone lines of AP writers and editors, including a shared office fax, in April and May of 2012. Why? On May 7, 2012, the Associated Press cited unnamed officials in its story on the CIA’s thwarting of an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot to use a second-generation underwear bomb to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner around the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death. Just days before, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House were reassuring the American public that there were no known plots to mark bin Laden’s death, even though the CIA operation was unfolding at the time. The AP pointed out the White House’s previous denials in their story.
After that news broke, it was revealed that the Justice Department spied on Fox News Washington correspondent James Rosen, reading his personal emails and tracking his movements at the State Department. Even Obama confidante David Axelrod called the Rosen case “very disturbing,” noting that the correspondent had been named a co-conspirator by the DOJ simply for receiving leaked information regarding North Korean nuclear weapons tests.
White House press secretary Jay Carney insisted that the president believes journalists shouldn’t be prosecuted for doing their jobs and told reporters that Obama thought it important that “you and your colleagues are able to do your jobs in a free and open way.”
But even the Committee to Protect Journalists, a press-freedom organization with a global focus that notes 2013 was the second-worst year on record worldwide for imprisoned journalists, took issue with the assertion that this White House is committed to free media, issuing a scathing report in September charging that the administration “curbs routine disclosure of information and deploys its own media to evade scrutiny by the press.”
In November, the White House Correspondents’ Association and 37 news organizations joined in sending a letter to Carney stressing that previous administrations have recognized “the right of journalists to gather the news is most critical when covering government officials acting in their official capacities… As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the Executive Branch of government.”
And in December, AP photo desk director Santiago Lyon, who has covered conflicts from Somalia to the Balkans to Afghanistan, wrote a New York Times op-ed slamming “draconian restrictions” on press photographers and branding its handout photos “propaganda.”
“By no stretch of the imagination are these images journalism. Rather, they propagate an idealized portrayal of events on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Lyon wrote. “If you take this practice to its logical conclusion, why have news conferences? Why give reporters any access to the White House? It would be easier to just have a daily statement from the president (like his recorded weekly video address) and call it a day. Repressive governments do this all the time.”
In a word, the photojournalist who has seen the worst of regimes firsthand branded this administration’s policies “undemocratic.”
So it’s been a sobering year for journalists in America. As those of us who cover press freedom around the globe well know, it’s the media who first feel the impact of creeping repression — and whether one likes the media or not is immaterial, because this erosion of rights trickles past the newsstand before too long. I have to praise all of the aforementioned colleagues who raised these issues in 2013, because even if we don’t like making ourselves the story any erosion of a free press and free speech deserves to be a page one lead.
Bridget Johnson is a career journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
Congressional Republicans attracted a lot of attention – and some derision — futilely trying to kill Obamacare this year but another area that has proved unsusceptible to GOP attacks may be more significant in the long run.
The Environmental Protection Agency, the brainchild of Republican President Richard Nixon, is increasing its influence as never before, promulgating new regulations that could make it nearly impossible for new coal-fired energy plants to go on line while setting the stage for an effort to gain greater pollution control over bodies of water that thus far have been beyond its reach.
And thus far it appears the GOP can do nothing about it. The sudden surge in the EPA’s authority to enhance the nation’s health while simultaneously addressing issues dealing with global climate change – leaving critics to complain the Obama administration is killing jobs and increasing utility rates – is the most under-reported story of the year.
Basically, the EPA insists it has carte blanche to do just about anything it wants under the Clean Air Act without congressional approval. A 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency held that the EPA could regulate carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases from automobiles as hazardous pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
That ruling resulted in the permitting requirements for motor vehicles, known as the “Tailpipe Rule,” in 2010. The EPA has since gone where previous administrations have feared to tread, citing the ruling to promulgate regulations on coal-fired power plants and other stationary sources, essentially placing the nation’s coal economy on notice.
“President Obama and his EPA have once again moved forward with an extreme regulation that makes it illegal to build a coal-fired electricity plant in America,’’ said Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-KY, chairman of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee. “This move is another attempt to bankrupt the coal industry to fulfill a campaign promise to radical environmentalists.’’
That authority is now being challenged. The high court has agreed to review a case, regarding “Whether EPA permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases.” Oral arguments are scheduled for Feb. 24, 2014.
“We simply cannot afford to place America at an economic disadvantage, particularly when CO2 energy-related emissions are at their lowest levels in 20 years,’’ Whitfield said.
Meanwhile the EPA also is moving under the Clean Water Act. The high court, in 2006, rejected claims that the act gave the EPA jurisdiction over small, intermittent bodies of water. The court instead held the agency maintained jurisdiction only over “those relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water” – basically streams, oceans, rivers, and lakes.
But the agency is now circulating a draft regulation that would permit it to assume jurisdiction over all bodies of water – large or small – including those found solely on private property.
Washington freelancer Bill Straub is former White House correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service.