The WP's employment of a fear-mongering smear artist

Do news organizations have any responsibility in the face of a disgusting McCarthyite attack?

Published March 5, 2010 11:06AM (EST)

(updated below)

One of the DOJ lawyers being smeared as part of the "Al Qaeda 7" campaign by Cheney/Kristol (and Wolf Blitzer/CNN) is Karl Thompson, who, while at the law firm O'Melveney & Myers in 2007, represented a Guantanamo detainee (Omar Khadr, who was 15 when he was detained).  Today in The Washington Post, Walter Dellinger, a senior partner at that firm and former head of the OLC, recounts how his firm came to represent Khadr:  specifically, they were implored to do so by Bush DOD lawyer Rebecca Snyder and Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, who needed the help of a large law firm in defending Khadr with regard to complex Constitutional and other legal issues pending before the Supreme Court.  Having answered the call of these military officials by working pro bono on that case, the O'Melveney lawyers are now being smeared -- with the help of CNN -- as Al Qaeda sympathizers.  As Dellinger writes:

That those in question would have their patriotism, loyalty and values attacked by reputable public figures such as Elizabeth Cheney and journalists such as Kristol is as depressing a public episode as I have witnessed in many years. What has become of our civic life in America? The only word that can do justice to the personal attacks on these fine lawyers -- and on the integrity of our legal system -- is shameful. Shameful.

As I noted the other day, that's the disgusting logic of the Cheney/Kristol campaign:  it necessarily suggests that every military and civilian lawyer who ever advocated for the Constitutional or other rights of accused Terrorists -- and every judge who ever issued a favorable ruling (including a majority of current Supreme Court Justices) -- is an America-hating subversive in league with Al Qaeda.  And it wouldn't matter in the slightest if a lawyer represented a detainee because they were asked to do so by military lawyers or sought out the work on their own:  when one defends anyone against unconstitutional acts by the Government or otherwise provides a zealous legal defense, one is, by definition, defending what are supposed to be the country's core political values.  Notably, even The Post's Editorial Page today condemns the Cheney/Kristol ad as a "smear" campaign and notes:  

Yet patently the video is far more than a call for transparency. It is an effort to smear the Obama administration and the reputations of Justice Department lawyers who, before joining the administration, acted in the best traditions of this country by volunteering to take on the cases of suspected terrorists. . . .

It took courage for attorneys to stand up in the midst of understandable societal rage to protect the rights of those accused of terrorism. Advocates knew that ignorance and fear would too often cloud reason. They knew that this hysteria made their work on these cases all the more important.  The video from Keep America Safe proves they were right.

So according to the Post Editorsthis "Department of Jihad" ad is a "smear" campaign based in "hysteria, ignorance and fear" that is designed to "cloud reason."  Yet those very same Post Editors continue to employ as a Columnist one of the primary parties responsible for this "smear" campaign.  That's a strange thing to do.  Once a newspaper's editors decide that someone is responsible for what they themselves denounce as a repugnant "smear" that traffics in fear, hysteria and ignorance and is designed to "cloud reason," one would think they'd no longer want to provide a forum to the person responsible.  Why would a newspaper want to amplify and elevate a person who they know smears others using fear, hysteria and ignorance?  

It's hardly news that Bill Kristol is a rank propagandist responsible for some of the most destructive falsehoods in our political culture, but now that the Post Editors explicitly recognize this, doesn't it speak volumes about them if they continue (as they will) to employ such a person as a regular Columnist?  And which will be the first television news organization to present Kristol's wretched McCarthyite comrade, Liz Cheney, as a Sunday morning panelist to opine as some sort of expert on various political matters of the day?  Do news organizations recognize any responsibility at all with regard to those who try to spawn a disgusting witch hunt like this?


UPDATE:  Wolf Blitzer tonight apologized for the on-screen graphics used by CNN last night in its story on the "Al Qaeda 7" campaign.  Credit where it's due, I suppose, though the use of those chyrons was only a part of the journalistic heinousness in how CNN and Blitzer covered that story.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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