Last night I told you that I find the Justice Department probe of the Associated Press to be troubling, creepy, even Nixonian, a word I don't toss around lightly. Having had 24 hours to reflect, my opinion on that front has only hardened. Of the three (at least that was the number last time I checked) swirling Obama scandals that have bowled over the Beltway 500, I see these matters as different from each other as night and day and...another night. The Benghazi "scandal" is a joke that is melting away faster than the Wicked Witch of the West The IRS scandal is highly troubling (although a diversion from the more important issues of Big Money in politics...as most political scandals are a diversion) and demands a full-blown investigation, not that there's any chance of that not happening at this point, with this gang in Congress.
As for the AP scandal, this one continues to bother me the most -- not just because of the underlying facts, but because it crystallizes the things that have troubled me about Obama's presidency from early in his first term -- the broken promises on less secrecy and more transparency, the all-out war on whistleblowers, and a hostility to "unfettered" investigative reporting, no matter how many times that Jay Carney says otherwise.
Unfortunately, I'm here to predict that the AP story is going to die rather quickly on the vine, that it will never gain the hot winds of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the right-wing blogosphere to feed its fire -- and here's why: Before Eric Holder and his deputies came along, there was one group that was much, much more determined to undermine the Associated Press, to destroy its First Amendment rights to report on the activities of the U.S. government, and to silence its reporting on the war on terror..
If you're wondering why you haven't seen America's right-wing sweetheart Michelle Malkin front and center on this scandal, maybe that's because Malkin has spent years calling the multiple-Pulitzer-winning journalists of the AP "the Associated (with terrorists) Press." And the rest of the right-wing media world was right behind her. What's more, the Right is not going to go after Obama's Justice Department for investigating its 2012 article about CIA and other U.S. activities in Yemen -- because regrettably Eric Holder was doing exactly what Republicans wanted him to do.
The Associated Press proudly calls itself the "essential global news network" and a "bastion of the people's right to know around the world." But when it comes to the "people's right to know" whether Associated Press employees are cooperating with terrorists overseas, the "essential global news network's" motto is: Bug off.
The case that Malkin is so worked up about is the matter of Bilal Hussein (pictured at top), an Iraqi photographer who was inspired by the possibility of a free press after the toppling of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, hooked up with the AP and helped them win a Pulitzer, and then found himself detained by the U.S. military and held for months without a hearing. I know the case well because I blogged about it frequently in those years; Malkin and a host of other right-wing bloggers were on the other side, opposing the press freedom -- and Americans' right to get "unfettered" photos from Iraq -- that Bilal Hussein represented.
Here's what the AP's then-chief executive said in 2006, and what American conservative bloggers and activists were fighting against:
"We have grave concerns that his rights under the law continue to be ignored and even abused...The steps the U.S. military is now taking continue to deny Bilal his right to due process...represents a miscarriage of the very justice and rule of law that the United States is claiming to help Iraq achieve."
The flimsy case against the AP journalist fell apart, and since 2008 Bilal Hussein has been a free man. By then, Malkin and her minions had moved onto new campaigns to shut down the AP's reporting from Iraq. In 2007, they went after the AP for a case related to its source -- yes, a whisteblower -- whose name (confusingly) was Jamil Hussein. It did not end well. Don't believe me -- listen to Brit Hume...of Fox News:
Fox News' Washington managing editor Brit Hume reported on January 4 that "the Associated Press says the Iraqi Interior Ministry has acknowledged" the existence of Iraqi police Capt. Jamil Hussein, who was a source for a November 24 Associated Press article in which the AP reported that "Shiite militiamen doused six Sunni Arabs with kerosene and burned them alive as Iraqi soldiers stood by." That report has been a target of fierce criticism by conservative bloggers, many of whom suggested that Hussein did not exist. Two days after reporting former CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan's claim that he found no evidence to prove the existence of Hussein, Hume said that "the AP, it appears, has been vindicated."
As noted by Media Matters for America columnist Eric Boehlert, spurred by the U.S. Central Command's claim that the attacks the AP reported could not be corroborated and that there was no Baghdad police captain named Jamil Hussein, conservative bloggers seized on the then-disputed Hussein story "to advance their phony notion that the press is to blame for the Iraq fiasco."
If you think that right-wingers were humiliated and chastened by this point, that they would stop trying to tear down the AP as a prime source for American citizens on how its government was squandering billions of dollars AND its moral capital halfway across the globe, then you haven't been paying attention the last 10 years. Conservatives continue to call them "the Associated (with terrorists) Press," as the Creeping Sharia blog (yes, that's a thing) did just last month.
And now with Eric Holder and the Justice Department going after the AP phone records over its Yemen reporting: They were doing what Republicans last summer asked them to:
Thirty-one Republican senators have signed a letter calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to immediately appoint a special counsel to investigation national-security leaks from the executive branch. "The numerous national-security leaks reportedly originating out of the executive branch in recent months have been stunning," they wrote to Holder.
Today, some Republicans are shocked, shocked that the Justice Department would launch such a sweeping probe of such a valuable agent of the First Amendment as the Associated Press. Please, spare us. To be clear, none of this absolves President Obama or Eric Holder, who talk the talk on press freedom but don't walk the walk, who've broken most of the promises that candidate Obama made in 2008. And this is another sad case, when it comes to national security issues, of conservatives saying "Jump" and Team Obama responding with the proverbial "How high?"
But don't let anyone whitewash the history -- that far too many conservatives were eager to destroy the Associated Press and the First Amendment liberties that it stands for, in the name of a lie-based war in Iraq. Look, it's been a long, lonely decade for the handful of us who've been truly fighting for an unfettered -- yes, unfettered -- American press in an era of an endless, Orwellian war on terror. If conservatives are suddenly ready to join this battle, you are welcome to hop aboard.
I am not holding my breath.