Power To Speak Truth.

Posted on August 16, 2014

by Jerry Alatalo

pictured-1“The function of the press is to explore and investigate events, inform the people what is going on, and to expose the harmful as well as the good influences at work. There is no higher function performed under our constitutional regime… A reporter is no better than his source of information. Unless he has a privilege to withhold the identity of his source, he will be the victim of governmental intrigue or aggression. If he can be summoned to testify in secret before a grand jury, his sources will dry up and the attempted exposure, the effort to enlighten the public will be ended…”

“The intrusion of government into this domain is symptomatic of the disease of this society. As the years pass, the power of government becomes more and more pervasive. It is the power to suffocate both people and causes. Those in power, whatever their politics, want only to perpetuate it. Now that the fences of the law and the tradition that has protected the press are broken down, the people are the victims. The First Amendment, as I read it, was designed precisely to prevent that tragedy.”

– William O. Douglas (1898-1980) U.S. Supreme Court Justice (Dissent, Earl Caldwell case, 1972)

What has Pulitzer Prize winning journalist James Risen in hot water, and journalists everywhere upset, is his refusal to name the source of so-called classified information from Mr. Risen’s 2006 book “State Of War”. The information published in the book – which represents the classified leak – was the CIA’s 2000 botched attempt to get a former Russian nuclear scientist to transfer intentionally messed-up blueprints for building a nuclear bomb to unknowing Iranian government officials. After Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden, the government has passed rules for national security employees to prevent similar leaks, and increased the amount of information that becomes classified.

First, what determines whether information becomes classified or not? An obvious case for classified status is information that includes nuclear bomb blueprints which are real, or not intentionally “messed-up”. Using a simple analogy, the father of four sons aged 7, 8, 10, and 11 who owns handguns “classifies” them in a locked safe where they won’t be touched by the boys. Whoever told James Risen about the faked blueprints was transferring information which leads one to question first: why was such an idea cooked up to begin with? and second: shouldn’t Americans know about the questionable actions carried out by its government?

The first question – why the idea became cooked up – is almost impossible to answer without speaking to the idea’s originator. Perhaps it became considered feasible to throw off the Iranians if they had designs on a bomb. If Iranians, as they claim, have no desire to build a bomb, then messed-up drawings are irrelevant. Using another simple analogy, a husband who isn’t sure, but thinks, his wife might be planning to poison him for the insurance money could “innocently” hand his wife an internet printout on gardening that just “happens” to include a bogus, harmless recipe for a poisonous-to-humans concoction. Whether or not his wife actually planned on poisoning him, he’s covered the worst case scenario, just as the bogus bomb blueprints.

Getting to the point, with regard to government classification of information, is it possible that there is “honorable” classified info and “dishonorable” classified info? Returning to the dad with four sons, imagine that dad has through the years of running his restaurant contracted hit men to murder his competitors or blow up their restaurants. For dad, with his sons, this is “classified information”. So, his “classification” of handguns through placing them in the safe is “honorable”, but his murderous/criminal actions are “dishonorable” classified.

The U.S. government’s applying of “classified” to real nuclear bomb blueprints is “honorable”, but video of American troops from the sky mowing down non-combatants in Iraq, and unconstitutional spying on Americans without their knowledge, is “dishonorable”. A number of questions arise when considering these situations. What percentage of all U.S. classified information is “honorable” or “dishonorable”? Are as yet unreleased files on the murder of President John F. Kennedy filled with classified documents that meet the standards of “dishonorable”?

Does the government have in its possession classified documents related to the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King which any reasonable person would decide belong in the “dishonorable” category? Or Robert F. Kennedy, or Senator Paul Wellstone…? These questions lead one to wonder whether now debated “shield laws” which would allow journalists to keep identities of sources confidential would be better off called “Dishonorable Classification Journalist Act of 2014” or “2014 If It’s Dishonorable Classified You Can Work Freely With Journalists Act” and so on.

The point is that persons who leak classified information of the dishonorable variety are, from a moral and ethical standpoint, worthy of respect, honor, and admiration – certainly not punishment. It is because of dishonorable actions taken by America’s leaders that the United States has suffered a loss of its reputation; allowing the nation to “admit” those dishonorable actions – apologizing in each instance while making proper amends –  would begin a process of rehabilitating America’s reputation, while preventing further instances of actions which hurt that same reputation.

It is unknown how many men and women employed by the U.S. government with familiarity of classified documents have considered meeting with journalists because they’re aware of information which is “dishonorable”. James Risen published information which has yet to become determined honorable or dishonorable. If, after examining the specifics of the event he published, it becomes clear the classified info is of the honorable variety – that’s one thing. If the original event becomes judged as dishonorable, Mr. Risen needs to be released from any further legal proceedings.

In the cases of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, information they leaked is viewed by reasonable men and women as “classified dishonorable”, so they should rightly be released from legal consequences. The phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” is appropriate in the case of Manning and Snowden. In the case of Mr. Risen, probably appropriate as well. In the age of instant, worldwide dissemination of information, “my country right or wrong” has become an anachronistic phrase no longer of any value. Holding on to the idea of “my country right or wrong” only maintains the potential for unfortunate further erosion of America’s reputation through acceptance of the “wrong” – the dishonorable.

Legal scholars, with regard to whistleblower sources/classified information/journalism, should seriously consider advocating addition of the honorable/dishonorable dimension.

The best argument for doing so is the Iraq War, based on lies – a historic, horrific human catastrophe — which damaged America’s international reputation in immeasurable ways. If journalists had reported the most consequential “wrong classified information”, provided to them by sources who understood the difference between honor and dishonor, then one million men, women, and children would still be alive today.

Journalists’ ability to protect identities of their sources is essential for citizens’ right to “speak truth to power” – at times corrupt power. That journalistic privilege – without which corrupt power can “suffocate people and causes” – gives both journalists and the people power to speak truth.


(Thank you to TheRealNews at YouTube)

Journalist John Pilger – Conscience Keeper Of A Generation.

Posted April 9, 2014

by Jerry Alatalo

“If you do not specify and confront real issues, what you say will surely obscure them. If you do not alarm anyone morally, you yourself remain morally asleep. If you do not embody controversy, what you say will be an acceptance of the drift of the coming human hell.”

– C. Wright Mills (1916-1962) American sociologist

blogger3-1John Pilger has created a large body of work in his over four decades as a journalist. He started out as a young, naïve reporter during the time of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, having experienced what he describes as “unworldly and indelible”. He is asked by interviewer Ms. Shoma Chaudbury if there is any single event that stands out from his long career reporting on the most tragic war atrocities in recent history. He responds by saying what stood out was “how great power imposed on ordinary people in vivid and disturbing ways has had the greatest effect on me”.

Ms. Chaudbury asks: “what is the nexus (between military power, media, and government) people don’t understand?”

Mr. Pilger, whose films and reporting from the 1970’s up till now have focused on the consequences of war as well as the real causes, points out to her that he has tried to connect those who exercise power with the consequences of that power. Most people on the ground do not understand the connections. He notes that if Tony Blair and George W. Bush were Africans they would be arrested for war crimes. He admits that he has tried in his way to get readers and viewers of his films to look in the mirror.

Although Mr. Pilger never mentions it specifically, one can see that all during his reporting career John Pilger has remained loyal to telling the truth about world events – most especially the biggest, most consequential events like war. One of his early films  – “The War You Don’t See” –  exposed the workings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in their debt-capture, natural resource extracting actions in developing, third-world nations around the Earth, benefiting for the most part those at the top of the wealth and political power pyramid while leaving many on the lower rungs out of hope.

He talks about western media’s minimization of, or omission altogether, of western states’ culpability during military events or other geopolitical movements. He notes that, since 1945, America has “intervened” 72 times in the affairs of other nations – including assassinations/assassination attempts, destabilization campaigns, “low-intensity conflict”, outright overthrows/coups, and direct military actions. He tells Ms. Chaudbury that in the past reporters who wrote about these “interventions” would become labeled as “un-American” or “unpatriotic”, but that those terms are rarely used now because people are coming around to understand and “get it”.

He laments that, since the Cold War was over, humanity should be enjoying peace, but there remains worry in the minds and hearts of people about possible wars breaking out. As an American, although my philosophy is a citizen of the Earth, it is hard to convey what Mr. Pilger says about inaccurate images of the United States. He finds that the main propaganda about the U.S.A. is that it is a benign, giving, and generous entity, when the opposite is the truth. In a separate interview from this one, he described a recent visit to the Smithsonian where there was a line of displays about the Vietnam and Iraq Wars, among others.

Vietnam and Iraq were two of the most disastrous and tragic foreign policy decisions ever in American history. Young children moved with the lines of people at the Smithsonian, came upon the Vietnam War display, and read the words: “The United States saved the lives of one million Vietnamese people…” Further on the Iraq War display read: “The United States helped Iraq’s people bring about democracy”.

Ms. Chaudbury congratulates him for his “encyclopedic coverage of atrocities for over 40 years”. He finds himself optimistic even after all he has seen and experienced, pointing to people like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and others, as well as the corresponding, courageous truth-telling organizations in nations and regions around the Earth. Individuals and groups who expose the lies powerful leaders of governments tell themselves in private – “what we journalists should have been doing a long time ago – “whistleblowing” – makes him hopeful for the future, having reached the age of 75.

He shares what one could suppose is his “big picture” view of the world. He sees a kind of international apartheid situation where on one side of the fence reside the comfortable, conforming, corporate people, and on the other side most of the Earth’s people living uncomfortable, sometimes non-conforming lives. He notes that the least we can do is report on the lives of those innocent men, women, and children living outside the comfort zone – on the wrong side of the rich/poor apartheid fence.


Shoma Chaudbury thanks John Pilger for being the “conscience keeper of a generation”. 

(Thank you to telhelkatv at YouTube)