Martha Randolph Carr Martha Randolph Carr, 12/13/2010 [Archive]

Democracy or Death

Democracy or Death

By Martha Randolph Carr

Journalism has fallen down another rung with the outcry among pundits against Julian Assange who took part in the Wikileaks affairs and is still helping to disseminate thousands of pages of classified US documents to the general public.

The aftermath of closing down so many print sources across America is becoming more and more obvious with the backlash from the talking heads on the infotainment shows calling for Assange's head minus any breaking investigative news about the documents.

There's more talk about Assange than there is about what he uncovered, which by the way is where the real story is hiding out.

It's understandable that the US government would make noise about embarrassment and the need for secrets even if they feel differently.

There were a lot of unflattering remarks made about foreign governments that need to be smoothed over as well as footage of damaging maneuvers by US troops in Afghanistan and information on troop movements. A certain amount of surprise and indignation is to be expected.

There was also a lot back in 1971 when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers and there was the journalist, Seymour Hersh who uncovered first My Lai in 1968 and more recently in 2004 the horror of Abu Ghraib.

There were murmurings each time about a traitor amongst us and people calling for their imprisonment. Fortunately, democracy mattered more and there were dedicated journalists who dug even deeper and exposed more of the story.

There is an even bigger example in the admired and richly rewarded career of Bob Woodward who is now the assistant managing editor for investigative news at the Washington Post whose career took off as a result of Watergate with one of the most famous government leaks. His use of government documents continues to this day with books such as Bush at War and Plan of Attack that quote sensitive documents leaked by government sources.

After Watergate colleges were swamped with kids wanting to study journalism and find the next big government scandal to expose.

However, that's missing this time with Wikileaks and there is no rush of journalists protecting the fundamental right of people who live in a democracy to have information. Not only have the journalists been mum for the most part there have been pundits who have casually called for Assange's assassination. Apparently trials are now passť as well.

If that were to happen we would no longer be living in a democracy, only the remains of a faded illusion and it would only be a matter of time before all of it unraveled.

Those in government who would like to shade the truth must be breathing pretty easy these days. We appear to be in the heyday of the ends justifying whatever means a government official takes as long as they hint it was to stop a whiff of terrorism.

They know that even if exposed they may be met with a deafening silence. No journalist appears to want to take the risk of getting painted as a terrorist and instead they have taken to mimicking each other.

It's only the foreign press such as Britain's BBC or the Spanish press that's asking questions about the documents themselves and wondering out loud about the political motivations behind the arrest warrant issued for Assange on alleged sexual allegations.

The British government, who's trying to extradite Assange and wants to stop the leaks at least appears less capable of hog-tying their own press.

One of Thomas Jefferson's most famous sayings was that he thought a free press was more important to the preservation of a democracy than a free government. He had seen what happens when a justification, which is half of a lie and half of a truth, goes unchallenged. A small lie is easy to ignore at first but they tend to grow tentacles and when it's in government, they become corruption. It's how we finally arrived at the Watergate trials where one person after another got up on the stand to testify about their role in the mess.

The entire Watergate episode elevated the Washington Post into a status equivalent to the New York Times and they became known as the newspaper that cared more about getting it right and telling it all. If only the indomitable Katherine Graham were still around to lead the charge again this time.

Not everyone in this country is drinking the Kool-Aide though and yelling, 'off with his head'. Ellsberg appeared on The Daily Show recently and called Assange a hero.

That much remains to be seen and will have to wait until a few hungry, young journalists who are on the staff of some newspaper that is trying to reverse its fortunes and reestablish the print medium suddenly start being of service again and rise to the occasion. It'll be interesting to see where the next Woodward or Graham will come from and we all have to hope for the sake of our country that they're out there. Martha's latest book is the memoir, A Place to Call Home. www.MarthaRandolphCarr.com. Email Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.

© 2010 Martha Randolph Carr. Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Sales at (805) 969-2829 or email Sales@cagle.com.

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