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Wednesday, May 18, 2005


the ultimatum

i cited arthur silber earlier in discussing how the bush administration's attack on newsweek constituted an assault on the free press akin to the assault on an politically independent judiciary -- with a final aim at increased control of the content and spin of the american press.

now the administration took, in the guise of scott mcclellan's may 17 press conference, a huge step toward manifesting a policy of censorship by extortion and intimidation. when i heard the blurb on wgn this morning as i got dressed, i wanted to disbelieve it -- to think i heard it wrong. i sadly didn't.

Q Scott, you said that the retraction by Newsweek magazine of its story is a good first step. What else does the President want this American magazine to do?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's what I talked about yesterday. This report, which Newsweek has now retracted and said was wrong, has had serious consequences. People did lose their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged; there is lasting damage to our image because of this report. And we would encourage Newsweek to do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done, particularly in the region.

And I think Newsweek can do that by talking about the way they got this wrong, and pointing out what the policies and practices of the United States military are when it comes to the handling of the Holy Koran. The military put in place policies and procedures to make sure that the Koran was handled -- or is handled with the utmost care and respect. And I think it would help to point that out, because some have taken this report -- those that are opposed to the United States -- some have taken this report and exploited it and used it to incite violence.

Q With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it's appropriate for you, at that podium, speaking with the authority of the President of the United States, to tell an American magazine what they should print?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not telling them. I'm saying that we would encourage them to help --

Q You're pressuring them.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying that we would encourage them --

Q It's not pressure?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that's all I'm saying. But, no, you're absolutely right, it's not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report.
this is masterful manipulation -- equating provocative reporting with dangerous irresponsibility, denying what he's doing as he does it, pressuring without "pressuring", insinuating great damage where none exists, moving responsibility for a horrible american image away from the administration that undoubtedly created it and to a newsmagazine that almost no one abroad reads. masterful and terrifying.

make no mistake -- this is a contemptible and entirely lawless attempt at muzzling what criticism of the administration that does make the pages of mainstream media in america. newsweek, for its part, must understand that it has been handed an ultimatum: run favorable propaganda, or face continued assault -- not only from us, but from our militant grassroots organizations -- and be denied access to the white house flow of information. moreover, the assault may be personal, singling out certain individuals for culpability and destruction.

how mainstream media responds to the ultimatum will be a revealing measure of just how far american journalism has gotten into bed with american government, valuing access over balance, observation over reporting, easy convenience over uncomfortable truth.

UPDATE: silber is incandescent on this point.

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