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NYT to Freedom of the Press: "Drop Dead!"

Chris Floyd | August 30 2006

Readers in the UK perusing the New York Times yesterday ran across an intriguing headline about new facts coming out in the "bomb terror plot" that recently shook the island kingdom: "Details Emerge in British Terror Case." Hmm, what does America's "paper of record" have to say about this vital subject? Let's click the headline and see…er, let's click again and…Where's the story? What's this message?

This Article Is Unavailable

On advice of legal counsel, this article is unavailable to readers of nytimes.com in Britain. This arises from the requirement in British law that prohibits publication of prejudicial information about the defendants prior to trial.

Yes, that's right: British users of the great universal information system of the age are being blocked from reading a story in America's most venerable and venerated newspaper – blocked not by government censorship, but by the newspaper itself. Who needs the KGB or the Stasi if the media watchdogs of a "free country" willingly snap the muzzle on themselves and lie down whimpering, thumping their tails at the bootheels of power?

And it wasn't just this newfangled internet gizmo that was blocked: "the shipment of yesterday's paper to London was stopped. The story was also omitted from the International Herald Tribune, the NYT's European sister paper," as the Guardian reports.

What accounts for this extraordinary situation? The Guardian explains:

…It is believed to be the first time that the paper has stopped British readers accessing one of its articles because of worries about UK law. Earlier this month, the home secretary, John Reid, and the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, issued a joint warning to the media to avoid coverage of the current terror investigations which might prejudice future trials. The statement threatened possible contempt proceedings against publications that failed to show appropriate "restraint".

That would be the same John Reid – the former Stalinist enforcer turned rightwing Blairite bullyboy in Labour's "four legs good, two legs better" regime – who immediately after the alleged bomb plot was uncovered took to the airwaves and spoke in no uncertain terms of the predetermined guilt of the terrorist suspects. It was Reid himself who prejudiced the case, in the most spectacular fashion. Reid's little confab with Lord Goldsmith – the legal eagle who cravenly reversed himself on the obvious illegality of the Iraq War after the White House and Blair leaned on him – had nothing to do with "protecting the rights" of the bomb plot suspects. (Blair after all has called for "rethinking" Britain's legal commitment to Europe's Human Rights Law, because of the "restrictions" this puts on his regime's maniacal drive to overturn the Magna Carta.)

No, what Reid (and the ever-acquiescent attorney general) want to do is intimidate the press from probing too deeply into the terror plot, from which the Blair government has tried to make so much political hay. (Without success, by the way; Blair, like Bush, is in free fall at the polls. His cynical mendacity and bloodthirsty lockstep with Bush have produced a true political miracle in Britain: the resurrection of the hated Tory Party, which had almost disappeared as a political force since 1997. Now the Conservatives are soaring in the polls, leading Labour by nine points.)

And so the New York Times is aiding and abetting this attempt to throttle the free flow of information in a supposed democracy. What is truly sinister about this cowardice is the precedent it sets for the paper's future policy. Hearken to the strange black-and-white rationale of this self-censorship delivered by George Freeman, vice president and assistant general counsel of the New York Times Company:

"…We're dealing with a country [the UK] that, while it doesn't have a First Amendment, it does have a free press, and it's our position that we ought to respect that country's laws."

Dig the pretzel logic: because the UK has a "free press," we should bend our knee to its laws that, er, restrict the freedom of the press. "We ought to respect that country's laws."

So when will the New York Times start blocking Chinese readers from reading stories that might violate "that country's laws"? (Those Chinese readers who have somehow circumvented the Reidish restrictions that Beijing's enforcers have clamped on the internet, that is.) Hey, the United States has a "free press," too; should the New York Times stop publishing stories using leaks of classified information that might violate "that country's laws?" If you're going to bow down to John Reid, why not to George Bush too while you're at it? Are Britain's press-restriction laws somehow more honorable than the shackles Bush, Al Gonzales and the whole sick crew are trying to put on America's media?

But you can be sure the next time the New York Times is under fire from the White House and the rightwing echo chamber for publishing classified material from a whistleblower (or from some savvy player in the Regime's own internecine warfare), the paper will send out the call: "Stand up for us, friends! The freedom of the press is being attacked! Help us defend our sacred liberties! Help us speak truth to power and cast a torchlight on the darkness of government skullduggery!"

I guess it's OK to kill the freedom of the press – as long as it's suicide, not a whack job from outside. We can campaign for "net neutrality" and maintaining the unrestricted, gloriously anarchic freedom of the internet from government encroachment until we're blue in the face; we can pour our hearts and souls into it, lobby Congress, write letters, lead protest marches and what all – but it's not going to mean a damn thing if the media itself is going to fall down and grovel in a paroxysm of trembly "respect" whenever they're confronted with the onerous press restrictions of the various principalities and powers of the world.

This is a major defeat for press freedom – a craven surrender offered up meekly without even firing a shot.


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