Jonah Goldberg
According to America's leading journalists, the United States government cannot run clandestine operations. Indeed, it cannot keep secrets or do anything in secret - if the press thinks "the people" should know about it. I put "the people" in quotation marks because for the press, it seems, "the people" are an abstraction. It needn't matter that the public understands some things should be kept secret; the press will tell them for their own good. And if the people complain, well, that means they're a bunch of yahoos and yokels who don't understand what a free press is for. Or, if the people are angry, it's solely because cynical conservative partisans in Washington are pulling their strings in a ploy to change the subject from their own failures.

Indeed, if you listened to the college of cardinals appearing Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," these are the only plausible explanations for criticism of the press for its disclosure of the government's terrorist banking surveillance program. Apparently, the producers couldn't find a single reporter from within the ranks of the elite media guild who is troubled by the guild's ever-expanding agenda to make itself the final authority on what can or cannot be secret. The Wall Street Journal's John Harwood, the Washington Post's Dana Priest, the New York Times' Bill Safire and the guest immoderator, NBC's Andrea Mitchell, refused to even consider the possibility that some critics are, you know, serious when they criticize the press. Bill Bennett was there for "balance" but received nothing but scorn for raising issues of "right and wrong."

Harwood and Safire were in complete agreement that expecting journalists to abide by secrecy laws is a "big step toward tyranny," in Harwood's words. Safire asked coyly: "Who elected the media to determine what should be secret and what should not?" He then answered his own question: "... the Founding Fathers did."

So, since serious people understand that holding the press accountable is tyrannical, the only plausible motive for criticism is Republican chicanery or flyover-state yahooism. "If you're a Republican in the White House or in Congress, would you rather talk about immigration, gas prices, the estate tax, all the things that you can't get done right now, or would you rather go after The New York Times?" asked Harwood.

Taking it even further, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll has suggested that the Republican attack on the New York Times is a cleverly anti-Semitic campaign because "many members of the president's base consider 'New York' to be a nifty code word for 'Jewish.'"

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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