"Rare are the moments in American history when a Congress has surrendered so many cherished freedoms in a single trip to the altar of immediate fear," writes John Nichols regarding the ambitiously named Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act which was recently approved by Congress. In addition to authorizing unprecedented levels of surveillance and incarceration of both U.S.
The dictatorship that governs Pakistan was held in contempt by the West prior to September 11, first for its repression of democracy at home and second for its ties with terrorists. Now that it has become our ally against Afghanistan, however, the song has changed. "It may be a good thing that Pakistan is ruled by a friendly military dictator," says Newsweek magazine, "rather than what could well be a hostile democracy." As Robert Fisk points out, "This, of course, is the very policy that dictates Washington's relations with the Arab world.
The Newspaper Guild, which represents newspaper employees throughout the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, has established an electronic clearinghouse on its website that tracks how news organizations treat dissenting journalists during the "war on terrorism." It notes that "the right, obligation and necessity of free inquiry, of the uncensored exchange of news and information, and of vigorous debate and the exchange of conflicting views and opinions ...
The Onion, a satirical publication which likes to call itself "America's finest news source," has published a clever parody of the current political environment in the United States: "We live in a land governed by plurality of opinion in an open electorate, but we are now under siege by adherents of a fundamentalist, totalitarian belief system that tolerates no dissent," a government official is quoted as saying. "Our most basic American values are threatened by an enemy opposed to everything for which our flag stands.
In an interview with Lip Magazine, media critic Bob McChesney discusses mass media's failure to provide context and understanding in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. "We need our media to really lead and show direction in all three areas: explaining what's happening, explaining why it's happening, and leading debate over what can and should be done about it," said McChesney.
Professor Jerold M. Starr looks at corporate control of the U.S. media and calls for a new independent public broadcasting system: "Today a mere six corporations control more than half of all communications enterprises: books, magazines, newspapers, music, motion pictures, radio and television. Some 77 percent of the nation's daily newspapers are part of chains. Two firms control more than half the market for 11,000 magazines. Four firms control our broadcast TV networks and almost all the cable networks.
University professors across the country have found their freedom to speak about the issues surrounding September 11 hemmed in by incensed students, alumni, and university officials. Academics have been shouted down by critics who say that now isn't the time to say anything that might offend others. At California State University at Chico, a professor who criticized U.S. foreign policy was heckled by students and received an e-mail barrage of hate messages from around the United States.
Florida is under a state of emergency, legislators are considering closing committee meetings, and routine public records are being withheld in the name of a massive federal terrorism investigation. In the two weeks since suicide attacks killed thousands, civil libertarians are growing worried that Florida's ironclad Government- in-the-Sunshine Law -- the most open in the nation -- could become collateral damage.
Washington Post staff writer Howard Kurtz writes, "As the administration gears up for what President Bush has described as a new kind of war, many journalists are growing concerned that they will have less information and less access to U.S. troops than ever before. Even the use of deliberate disinformation cannot be ruled out." He continues by quoting President Bush. "Let me condition the press this way: Any sources and methods of intelligence will remain guarded in secret," Bush said.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were so calamitous that they threaten to shake us loose from our constitutional mooring. A civil liberties catastrophe looms as citizens surrender to fear, fury and frustration and as lawmakers throw money and shards of the Bill of Rights at the specter of terrorism.