xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Edelman: Framers, justice knew best disinfectant is sunlight; administration aims to keep it dark

The press and elected officials have been at each ever since there was such a thing as the press. There’s a reason that the First Amendment to our Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press …” Before becoming president, one of the authors of those words, Thomas Jefferson, wrote, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” He also wrote, “the only security of all is a free press.”

But like most presidents, Jefferson had his moments with the way his term in office was covered. That champion of the free press also wrote, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.” I can but wonder what he would have said about Fox News, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of today’s media.

Advertisement

When we examine the importance of the First Amendment’s protection of the press, the most striking thing about it is how fundamental to democracy that protection is. Associate Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” We say things like “bringing facts to light” to mean exposing crime to public scrutiny. Conversely, we express being uninformed as “being kept in the dark,” and “gaslighting” describes being intentionally misinformed. The job of the press in our society is to make public the conduct of our elected officials, so that their misconduct is brought to light.

Last week, one news story was buried under the weight of the impeachment trial. National Public Radio news anchor Mary Louise Kelly interviewed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The interview and its aftermath did not go well.

Advertisement

In the course of the interview, Pompeo declared that the administration’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran was successful. Kelly then asked Pompeo to explain why, if the program was successful, Iran was able to carry out multiple attacks in the region and move its nuclear program forward. Pompeo blamed present-day Iranian misconduct on the Obama administration and was not related to the sanctions. Regarding Iran developing nuclear weapons, Kelly asked, “you’re determined to prevent them. How do you stop them?” Pompeo ducked the question, saying only “We’ll stop them.”

Kelly was not willing to let Pompeo bluff his way out of answering and repeated the question five more times. Pompeo repeated “we’ll stop them” multiple times. The conversation turned to Ukraine. Kelly asked if Pompeo owed fired ambassador Marie Yovanovich an apology. Pompeo did not want to discuss this. He accused Kelly of springing a surprise on him. She said she’d confirmed that she’d ask about Iran and Ukraine with his staff the day before the interview. When asked about morale in the department, she caught Pompeo in a bald-faced lie and confronted him with the facts: a former senior State Department official gave sworn testimony under oath that he resigned because the department failed to support foreign service personnel.

Pompeo denied that there is a morale problem in his department and he had spoken to defend Ambassador Yovanovich. Kelly asked, “Sir, respectfully, where have you defended Marie Yovanovich?” No answer. Pompeo also refused even to speak about, let alone respond to the former ambassador’s sworn statement that Ukraine policy was hijacked (by the president). An aide then stepped in and stopped the interview.

That aide called her into Pompeo’s private living room, where he shouted and asked “do you think the Americans give a [expletive deleted] about Ukraine?” He then challenged her to point out where Ukraine is located on an umarked map, which she did.

The next day, Pompeo accused Kelly of lying to him. The secretary’s written statement, apropos of nothing, concluded “Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine.” Sunday, Atlantic magazine ran an article, “Why journalists believe Mary Louise Kelly,” which points out that Kelly is a veteran foreign correspondent, whose job is to know the world, that she has an unblemished record for integrity and honesty in reporting, and Pompeo ran out of the interview, rather than set the record straight. Even after the interview and with the benefit of time, Pompeo did not release any record showing support for his staff, when to do so would completely vindicate him.

Pompeo’s conduct is one more chilling example of an administration committed to acting in secret, to hide in the darkness where its misdeeds can be concealed from the press and public.

Mitch Edelman, vice chairperson of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, writes from Finksburg. His column appears every other Tuesday. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement