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Pot Calls Kettle Black: Biden Lectures China About Press Freedom; NYT Applauds

Pot Calls Kettle Black: Biden Lectures China About Press Freedom; NYT Applauds

By Dennis Loo (12/8/13)

Today's NYT approvingly cites Vice-President Joe Biden's speech in China on Thursday, “'Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences,' he said in an address to American businesspeople living and working there."

I wonder if Biden simply forgot, when he was speaking of "where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy," about Chelsea (fka Bradley) Manning or Edward Snowden, or any of the other lesser known U.S. whistleblowers, who Obama and Biden have persecuted for daring to challenge orthodoxy and breathing and speaking freely?

Was Biden forgetting about what he said about Julian Assange's Wikileaks, which is as much a journalistic organization or more than any other that exists in the world today, for daring to "breath freely," in December 2010 on Meet the Press, calling him a "high-tech terrorist"? Perhaps Joe was suffering from ingesting too much MSG in China and temporarily lost his mind?

The Times' article also favorably compares Biden's comments to the British government's current high profile efforts to punish and intimidate The Guardian for publishing Snowden's revelations:

While it was heartening to see the White House at the forefront of the effort to ensure an unfettered press, government officials in Britain, a supposedly advanced democracy and the United States’ closest ally, might do well to consider Mr. Biden’s words. (Some of his colleagues in the Justice Department, which has ferociously prosecuted leakers, might take heed as well, but that’s a matter for a different day.)

"[A]t the forefront of the effort to ensure an unfettered press"? A "matter for a different day"?

As a fan of CBS's The Big Bang Theory I see and hear in my mind Jim Parson's character Sheldon Cooper saying "Excuse me, but what did you say?"

As Glenn Greenwald described the Obama Administration's legal case against Pvt. Manning:

[T]he theory that the government is proceeding on is one that's really quite radical and menacing. That is, that although he never communicated with, quote-unquote, "the enemy," which the government has said is al-Qaeda, although there's no evidence that he intended in any way to benefit al-Qaeda -- he could have sold this information, made a great deal of money, had he wanted to. All the evidence indicates that he did it for exactly the reason that he said, with the intent that he said, which was to spark reform and to bring attention to these abuses. The government is proceeding on the theory that simply because the information that's leaked ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda had an interest in it, that constitutes aiding and abetting the enemy. And what that essentially does is it converts every form of whistleblowing or leaks into a form of treason. There's evidence that Osama bin Laden was very interested, for example, in Bob Woodward's book -- books, which have all sorts of classified information in them at a much higher level of secrecy than anything Bradley Manning leaked. That would mean that not only the leakers to Woodward, the highest-level members of government, but even Woodward himself, could be depicted as a traitor or be accused of aiding and abetting the enemy. It's an extraordinarily menacing theory to journalism and to whistleblowing and leaking.

Why then does the NYT say that the US government's behavior towards investigative journalists and whistleblowers is a matter for a different day?

Isn't this day the same day as their extolling Biden's clearly utterly hypocritical words admonishing China while the US government and the British government monitor and go after anyone who dares to "breath freely and speak freely"?

What would not have been hypocritical is if Biden had advised his Chinese colleagues to be more subtle about their control over the press by making speeches like he is while behind the scenes putting pressure on journalists to be "patriots" by not calling to account their own government. What Biden and the Times are really upset about is that Bloomberg News and the NYT might lose their visas to report on China.

The Times goes on to say:

For all the complaints about the administration’s aggressiveness in prosecuting leaks, America is still a better place to reveal uncomfortable truths. After all, no one knocked on the door seeking documents and demanding the destruction of hard drives, as happened at [British paper] The Guardian.

“I am very happy to enjoy the protections of American law and American political traditions in terms of investigative journalism,” [Washington Post reporter] Mr. [Barton] Gellman said by phone. “It is far from perfect and we are still seeing reporters get in trouble for doing their job, but there is a strong norm against prosecuting a reporter for doing accountability work.”

Apparently, calling out Biden's comments as deceitful isn't for "another day" at all. It's for no day whatsoever, today or tomorrow. Today is for patting Biden on the back for the US government's stronger norms against prosecuting reporters for investigative journalism.

There are many different ways to skin a cat, as the saying goes. As was done during Bush's regime:

On May 16, 2006 ABC News reported that the [Bush] administration was tracking phone numbers dialed by major news organizations in order to intimidate reporters and those in government who provide leaks to the press. Furthermore, this tracking can be done without court order, using a “national security letter,” issued by an agent in the field. This letter can require a phone company or Internet provider to turn over the information, and not reveal the act has been done. According to Brian Ross, ABC News’ Chief Investigative Correspondent, the Justice Department’s figures show the F.B.I. issued 9,254 of these national security letters in 2005, aimed at surveilling 3,500 US citizens and legal immigrants. This administration is clearly operating surveillance at a magnitude far greater than it has ever represented. (Pp. 168-169)

This has continued and developed even further under Obama. See, for example, here and there

Consider NSA head Keith Alexander's fulminations here:

Apparently not satisfied with just setting fire to the 4th Amendment, NSA boss Keith Alexander's next target is the 1st Amendment. In an interview with the Defense Department's "Armed With Science" blog, it appears that Alexander felt he'd have a friendly audience, so he let loose with some insane claims, including suggesting that the government needs to find a way to "stop" journalists from reporting on the Snowden leaks.

See also Glenn Greenwald's latest experience with these US norms: accusations from other members of the press that he and Laura Poitras are "selling" secrets to billionaires.

Not that long ago, back in June 2013, Greenwald was asked by Meet the Press host David Gregory:

"To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn't you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?" he asked.

You see, this is the difference between the US and China. In China the phony communist government directly intimidates journalists and dissenters. In the US, both "patriotic" right-thinking journalists AND the government attempt to chill and intimidate. That way it's not so blatant.

There's another irony here about Biden's criticisms of China. When Obama was about to wag his finger at China for its cyberwarfare earlier this year, Edward Snowden stepped forward and revealed that the US was routinely and on a grander scale than any other entity, engaging in cyberwarfare against both rivals like China and allies like England. This nullified Obama's efforts to appear holier than thou.


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