Joe Conason's Journal

Mayor Bloomberg and the police commissioner cite security reasons for holding up a permit for antiwar demonstrators. Plus: The New York Sun praises the two men for suppressing dissent.

By Salon Staff
February 10, 2003 9:55PM (UTC)
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Lord have mercy
Several alert readers in Canada swiftly reminded me that they need no longer count Conrad Black, partner in the New York Sun, among their countrymen. Eighteen months ago he renounced his Canadian citizenship when the prime minister informed him that as a matter of law his homeland would not permit his appointment to the British House of Lords. Eager to style himself Lord Black of Crossharbour, he quit Canada instead. Someone should probably tell him that the United States is a republic, too. Anyway, my apologies to all concerned. Local radio is reporting that a judge today sustained the city government's refusal to permit demonstrators to march past the U.N., citing security concerns. The Feb. 15 antiwar protest will take place at a site nearby instead. Whatever one makes of that ruling, I don't believe the mayor or the police commissioner intended to suppress or discourage free speech. For the Sun to have implied that they did was a libel and a disservice to both men.
[2:14 p.m. PST, Feb. 10, 2003]

Sun's First Amendment eclipse
How weak is the argument for war? Aside from the shifty and specious reasoning of the ultrahawks, a telltale sign is their growing impulse to suppress dissent. Conservatives who pompously insist on "strict" adherence to the letter of the Constitution are suddenly eager to suspend the First Amendment. Consider last Thursday's editorial in the New York Sun, headlined "Comfort and the Protesters," which showed up in my mailbox the other day.


I was startled to see that this essay began by praising the mayor and the police commissioner for holding up a parade permit needed by antiwar protesters who plan to march past the United Nations on Feb. 15: "The longer they delay in granting the protesters a permit, the less time the organizers have to get their turnout organized, and the smaller the crowd is likely to be."

That sounded much like the old Pravda, or the People's Daily in Beijing, not like an American newspaper with traditional respect for the Bill of Rights. I read on and the editorial got worse, as if the writer had suffered a seizure of dementia while at the keyboard. After wading through some legalistic mumbo jumbo and some offensive nonsense about giving aid and comfort to Saddam Hussein, I came upon the following:

"So the New York City police could do worse, in the end, than to allow the protest and send two witnesses along for each participant, with an eye toward preserving at least the possibility of an eventual treason prosecution. Thus fully respecting not just some, but all of the constitutional principles at stake."


Perhaps this week the Sun will advocate sending tanks to mow down those dirty anarchists, like the Chinese authorities did at Tiananmen. The paper itself isn't very important, but it is financed by several powerful figures, including the Canadian media mogul Conrad Black, New York philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and New Republic investor Roger Hertog. One would think these conservative gentlemen are too respectable for gutter politics, but maybe not.

I called Sun editor Seth Lipsky -- a journalist with a good reputation who professes his devotion to "individual liberties" -- to ask why he had published something so irresponsible and rabid. He writes most if not all of the Sun's editorials, but he wouldn't comment. Others say Lipsky was out of town last week and the author was managing editor Ira Stoll. (That sounds plausible. This is the kind of problem that arises when nobody is minding the store, and the idiot son takes over the cash register.) Stoll's boss and the Sun's columnists -- including Andrew Sullivan -- ought to repudiate his authoritarian outburst.
[9:20 a.m. PST, Feb. 10, 2003]

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