For anybody who thought Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un were the oddest of odd couples, we have a new bromance going, with Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman high-fiving each other at the G-20 summit last week. Putin must have really been impressed by MbS’ bone saw. Many regimes around the world crush all opposition ruthlessly, but precious few leaders use Bond-villain weapons like Putin’s Novichok and Polonium or Kim Jong-un’s VX or anti-aircraft gun. The bone saw gains MbS instant access to that very selective club.
A deeper irony is that the grisly details were revealed at a painstakingly slow pace by Turkey’s dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has more journalists locked up than any other country in the world, by far. What a sorry spectacle to see major leaders like Merkel, May, and Trump — desperate to keep the Mercedeses, Bentleys, and Escalades fueled — turn themselves into pretzels concocting feather-light wrist slaps for MbS, all while 33 journalists rot in Erdoggy’s "Midnight Express" hellholes.
Khashoggi needless to say gets added to the list of Media Martyrs it’s assumed were whacked on orders from their leaders, like Anna Politkovskaya (presumably whacked by Putin), Pavel Sheremet (Putin or Lukashenko), Daphne Caruana Galizia (Joseph Muscat), to name just a few. 2018 will mark a 3-year high for reporters killed around the globe.
Of Course, Whistle-blowers Are Breaking the Law
Every nation has different laws and different enforcement policies regarding government secrets (and the definition thereof), libel, and the rights of the press. Opponents targeted by leaders, whether they are dissidents or journalists, are very often whistle-blowers who have dared to expose corruption, human rights violations, or other government wrongdoing. Understandably, these opponents often must ignore the laws and policies which surround and protect all the wrongdoing. It’s no different than Harvey Weinstein’s alleged assault victims trashing their Non-Disclosure Agreements.
Daniel Ellsberg took documents from the Pentagon that he was not allowed to take, and went on trial for this. But the judge acquitted him, Congress passed the Case-Church Amendment forbidding the government from some of the wrongdoing he exposed, and Ellsberg is now portrayed as an American hero in Steven Spielberg’s "The Post."
In July, 2007, two U.S. helicopters fired on civilians in Iraq, killing two Reuters journalists. The gunners were laughing and the killings appeared to be wanton, in violation of rules of engagement, and, it’s been argued, war crimes. The footage was leaked to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, who was charged with various crimes, sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013. In 2017, President Obama commuted her sentence.
In the U.S. Senate, in 2013, NSA Director James Clapper was asked, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" He responded, "Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly." Clapper’s testimony turned out to be perjury, once Edward Snowden shared evidence of massive NSA surveillance of U.S. citizens a few weeks later. Within two years, a Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA had violated the Patriot Act, and Congress soon passed the USA Freedom Act reinforcing laws against wide domestic surveillance. Snowden remains in Russia, perhaps dreaming that the U.S. will thank him, and he’ll enjoy a Daniel Ellsberg happy ending. On the movie front, Snowden’s already way ahead of Ellsberg, having invited Laura Poitras to film his entire adventure and signing with Oliver Stone very early on, as well.
In the 2016 Democratic Primary, Hillary Clinton was able to pressure the Democratic National Committee to move $82 million from down-ticket candidates to her campaign, along with other subterfuges, all in flagrant violation of Section 5, Article 4 of the DNC Charter. When WikiLeaks exposed this wrongdoing, the DNC immediately fired Chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and CNN sacked Donna Brazile for sliding Clinton a cheat sheet of debate questions. A lawsuit is still underway with aggrieved Bernie Sanders supporters seeking $200 million in damages. Why isn’t anyone saying the American voter had a right to know of this wrongdoing? Why is the government pursuing the leakers, when what they did was a great service to the public, adding pressure for greater fairness in the primary process?
WikiLeaks: Protecting the 1st Amendment
In the runup to the 2016 election, many were aghast when Trump heaped praise on WikiLeaks. The press has connected WikiLeaks to Russia relentlessly, but WikiLeaks isn’t run by any government. Its reports are reactive only, sent in anonymously by whistle-blowers around the world. Last year, WikiLeaks published mobile surveillance secrets purloined from Russia’s spy agency FSB, so the Russian government is far from immune.
"We embarked on a mission to bring the 1st Amendment to the world, little did we realize that our greatest struggle would come in 2010 when we tried to bring the 1st Amendment to the United States."
— Julian Assange
The most frequently-cited rationale for punishing whistle-blowers who release “classified information” is that if intelligence agents’ names are revealed, they and their informants are endangered. However, it is WikiLeaks policy to comb through any material being published and redact names of intelligence operatives. They do not behave as Dick Cheney did when he outed Valerie Plame.
Likewise, WikiLeaks does not reveal the source of leaks provided to them. The only reason we know Chelsea Manning leaked the Iraq helicopter footage to WikiLeaks is that she admitted it herself. With the furor surrounding the DNC leaks, Assange asserted that the DNC emails did not come from the Russians, which seems to be an article of faith nationwide.
Ecuador’s former president, Rafael Correa, said his successor Lenin Moreno, will “throw Assange out of the embassy at the first pressure from the United States.” If extradited to the U.S., what will happen with Julian Assange? He is not a U.S. citizen, and published the “classified information” outside U.S. borders. Maybe they will call him an “enemy combatant.” It will be interesting to see what charges could be brought, if he might earn Ellsberg treatment, and what the final word from the Supreme Court will be.
Censoring “Fake News” Is Still Censorship
The consensus against WikiLeaks mirrors something bigger. The United States government has been horrendously gridlocked by partisan warfare since the Tea Party stole the House of Representatives from the Democrats in 2010. However, there is one area where both Democrats and Republicans share common goals today: trampling the 1st Amendment. From Trump’s yanking Jim Acosta’s press pass to the purging of hundreds of Facebook accounts, there’s a firm political consensus in Washington that dissenting opinions need to be muzzled.
What happened to the bad old days when the ACLU would stand up for Nazis marching in Skokie, Illinois? Before this era of safe spaces, trigger warnings, coddling, and political correctness, a nutjob was free to peddle his nuts, courtesy of the 1st Amendment. Now, everyone is scared of conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones of Infowars, and he has to be silenced. Universities are cancelling speakers willy-nilly. What happened to Americans’ natural skepticism of snake-oil salesmen? We lived through yellow journalism in the earliest days of the free press. Where is our spine?
No, the Main Stream Media is not “the enemy of the people.” It’s just the enemy of President Trump. Today, the electronic media has become as gridlocked in partisan warfare as is Congress. For years, the electronic media had a left-wing slant. Then, along came Fox News, which advertised itself as “Fair and Balanced,” but was really just rebalancing the media mix with a strong right-wing slant. The left countered this with MSNBC, which displayed a strong left-wing slant mirroring Fox.
Steadfast Trump supporters kept the Senate for him in 2018. One thing Trump knows is this base detests the Eastern elite media. For two years he’s fanned the flames of conflict with CNN, as it only makes him stronger. It’s gotten so bad that CNN now even considers Trump "Saturday Night Live" spoof clips to be hard news. When the Department of Justice opposed the AT&T-Time Warner merger on shaky antitrust grounds, you could sense the fear at CNN that Trump was going to do a thorough house-cleaning of all his enemies. The courts let the deal go through, but Trump may very well admire the way leaders like Putin, Orban, and Erdogan have succeeded in turning the entire media industry in their favor, from an earlier, free-pressier, environment.
When Trump calls a CNN report “Fake News,” the left thinks he just doesn’t like the report’s content. However, while Trump’s protestations only serve to trigger more anti-Trump news reports, there is right now an effort to take down supposedly fake social media accounts, in the name of protecting the sanctity of our election process. What law says you can’t have any kind of social media account you like, and publish any content you like (with certain exceptions like how-to instructions for hydrogen bombs)?
One of the rationales provided for this censorship is the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) of January 6, 2017, authored by officers of the FBI, CIA, and NSA. The goal of the ICA was to identify covert Russian activities in the 2016 election. However, after the preambles, the body of the ICA report only devotes three pages to covert activities, spending another nine pages to the overt activities of RT (f.k.a. Russia Today).
The U.S. has Voice of America, translated into 40 languages, as its propaganda outlet; Russia will deny it, but RT is its propaganda outlet. Over the nine pages, the ICA details criticisms leveled by RT against the U.S. political system, including: the negative health impact of fracking, the Occupy Wall Street movement’s assertions that the U.S. political system is dominated by corporations, civil liberty infringements in surveillance of U.S. citizens, the flaws of America’s two-party system, police brutality, drones, etc. That’s dangerous “Fake News?” Sounds like an average night on the Rachel Maddow show. Is it any wonder RT cites freedom of speech as its defense against such criticisms?
Facebook has been reaping $100s of millions in profit from selling customer data in ways never before imagined, and desperately wants regulators on a worldwide basis to not disturb these business practices. How easy it is for them to crush out some dissenting voices the U.S. government finds unacceptable, to buy leniency from the regulators who threaten their bottom line.
Doesn’t the 1st Amendment mean we can listen to all voices in all media, whether we agree with them or not, and decide for ourselves what to believe? Fact-checking is a wonderful thing, but there is no law making it obligatory. Finally, it’s just simple logic that if someone — whether Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg, or whoever — is given the power to determine what is “Fake News” and silence it, that person will have dictatorial powers.
Henry Seggerman managed Korea International Investment Fund, the oldest South Korean hedge fund, from 2001 until 2014. He is a regular columnist for the Korea Times, and has also been a guest speaker, written for, or been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Bloomberg Television, Reuters, and FinanceAsia — covering not only North and South Korea, but also Asia, as well as U.S. politics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.