What It Will Take

Atrios wants to know what it’s going to take for the press to wake up to violations of the law in supposed pursuit of terrorism. What it’s going to take for every news show, every talk show, every front page, every stupid bobblehead to be demanding answers in a chorus of angels singing in unison for justice and the American way.

Damned if I know.

After two years of writing about this stuff at my last job, I started to feel like the girl at the party screaming about the world burning down, and nobody likes that girl. Everybody wants to dance, and she has to go on and on and on about racial profiling and immigration law. She’s a drag.

I think the national journalists, the talk-show hosts, the pundits, are just as scared of being tagged as pro-terrorist as any politician is, hell, as any person is. When Sami Al-Arian was arrested, under a detailed indictment that spelled out in great specificity the government’s contentions about his connections to Palestinian terrorism, professional assholes like Glenn Reynolds piled all over Salon’s Eric Boehlert, who’d defended Al-Arian during the pre-indictment witch hunt that drove him from his professorial job. See what you get for siding with these people, was the tenor of Reynolds’s and others’ criticism. That Al-Arian was aquitted of terrorism charges, that mattered less. He was accused. That was enough. Nowadays, that was enough.

Nobody wants to be in the position of sticking up for someone who turns out to be involved in something scummy. It’s wrong, that urge to run scared from a fight. It’s cowardly. It’s human, though, and don’t tell me you don’t understand it. Look at Mike Krempasky this morning. He looks like an asshole because he stuck up for his friend without knowing all the facts. Would you want to be him, left holding a steaming bag of shit like that?

With these national security cases, there’s no way to know all the facts. There’s no way you’re ever gonna find out, in most cases, what the government has on somebody. They say somebody’s a terrorist and they can’t tell you why; it would fuck with an ongoing investigation, or screw up the capture of somebody else, or they just plain can’t tell you. They could be right. They’re probably not, given their track record of prosecuting these guys, but they could be. And that’s enough to give most people that little feeling in their gut that says turn this off, it’s too dangerous.

There’s a thousand broken-down ground-up hard-luck cases out there for journalists to take on and shrinking amounts of resources expended to do the stories. Why waste them on somebody who’s probably guilty, somebody who’s unsympathetic, somebody who’s not a perfect protagonist for your story in every way, squeaky-clean and totally victimized? Why waste your time on complicated stories that don’t have anybody who’s easy for your readers or viewers to side with, somebody who might have been shady, somebody who might not be a total hero? Why waste your time on a narrative that takes more than 10 inches to explain?

Why? Because, the girl at the party screams, the government broke the law. It doesn’t matter why, or to what end, or to capture or deport whom. The government broke the law. That’s all that should matter.

Try selling it on the 6 o’clock news.

A.