In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, several state Legislatures have considered or passed measures restricting access to government records or facilities. In Presstime, a public of the National Newspaper Association, Joe Adams writes, "State lawmakers are closing public records at an alarming pace, often without even a shrug from those with the most to lose -- ordinary citizens. ... In state after state, lawmakers use privacy concerns as a blanket license to shutter records long thought to be safe from exemption.
In his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, Attorney General John Ashcroft argued that critics of the Bush administration's domestic anti-terrorism measures "only aid terrorists." The next day, Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker told journalists that they had mischaracterized Ashcroft's statements and, in doing so, "became a part of the exact problem he was describing." Such statements by a leading public official and a prominent spokesperson for the administration constitute an attempt to shut down rational debate over the administration's policies by as
If you want to know if any toxic wastes dumps are near where you might soon buy a home, you can no longer find out. If you want to know just what is really being done to keep nuclear power plants safe, you can no longer find out. If you are interested in the design and construction of dams, you probably will not be able to get any information about them from the government any more. If you want to visit the reading rooms provided by many government agencies, such as the IRS, you now must make an appointment, and you will be chaperoned.
In a startling plea for official censorship, Amy E. Smithson of the Henry L. Stimson Center has urged the government to "close down" web sites run by environmental organizations if they publish information about hazardous materials in local communities around the country, claiming that such information could be used by terrorists.
"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.