Many years ago I had a child enter Psychoanalysis because his temper was interfering with his ability to function in school as well as infuriating his parents to distraction. All children test limits with authority figures and the Child Therapy situation is no different. Children are encouraged in Play Therapy (of which Child Psychoanalysis is the prototype) to say and do whatever they wish, within limits. When appropriate and necessary, I tell my child patients that the only rules in the office are that they do nothing to hurt me, to hurt themselves, or to destroy any of my property; the children typically test the limits but once they establish how far they can go, they usually get down to the work of play which takes up the bulk of their treatment. In one particular case, a 5 year old boy was unable or unwilling to play by the rules. He insisted on trying to break things in the office, put himself into precarious positions and finally, when I would stop his dangerous or destructive activity, would directly attack me. After some time (a rather stressful and difficult time, I might add) we arrived at a good working relationship; from time to time however, he would regress and tease me with threats to harm himself or break things. Eventually, when this was better under control, we were able to use some humor to leaven his anger; at times when he wanted to provoke me, he would feint toward disallowed behavior and one or the other of us would point out that he was engaging in "bear baiting." This was an activity made popular in Russia ~100 years ago. A circus or traveling bazaar would come to town and they would often have a trained bear, staked to a post with a stout chain. The village boys would test their mettle by seeing how close they could get to the bear to tease him without getting injured. Hence, the name "bear baiting." My young patient would see just how close he could get to the limits of my chain (my patience) before provoking a frightening reaction, ie, a physical intervention from me to protect him, me, or the office.
I am reminded of his "bear baiting" by the behavior of the New York Times.
It seems that almost every day the New York Times prints another story that is destructive to our war effort and threatens to damage its (the Times's) swiftly declining, now almost negligible, credibility. Today's example is a story, Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid U.S. Propaganda, in which the reporters reveal that the United States, as part of our war effort in Iraq, used the traditional means of money to get opinion leaders in the Iraqi Sunni communities to come over to our side. This is not really news, but the story is prominently featured on the front page of the Times, it appears, primarily because it can damage our war effort, and endanger people who are working with the American forces in Iraq. If the story had been leaked by a foreign national spying on the United States, no one would question whether or not they deserve, at the least, a long jail term, but since the information is printed in the pages of the New York Times, we are all supposed to ignore the harm it can do and let it slide.
This is not an important story in the greater scheme 0f things. The Times campaign of leaks and innuendo which seems to have the goal of disarming the United States in a global (partly informational) war against Islamic fascists who want nothing more than to kill large numbers of infidels and destroy our country has been ongoing for months, perhaps years, and there have been many more dangerous stories, like the leaks about the NSA program that the Times has recently been bruiting about. No, the issue with this story is not its power to harm our interests, though it can and will, but the fact that it is such a minor story of so little import, without even a patina of justification based on the supposed concerns over civil liberties that so much of the left uses to legitimize their opposition to American self-defense. It begs the question: why would the Times print such a minor story on the front page at such a time?
The primary job of the editors of the New York Times, indeed, of any news organization, is deciding which stories among the plethora of news they collect everyday, deserves to be printed. Of even greater import, which stories should be on the front page. These are the stories that the derivative news organizations all the way down the line to the local news casts and local papers, will feature as their important news stories of the day. When the Washington Post and the Times printed stories about the NSA program to monitor communications, they could justify their breaches of national security by believing that civil liberties concerns trump national security concerns, and that any risk they might run in printing the stories was worth the benefit that would accrue from the American public knowing what was being done in their name. So far, the American public doesn't buy their justification, if the polls are accurate, but at least they can claim to be standing on principle in printing the stories.
A story about using the time honored approach of bribing tribal leaders and religious leaders to support our policies, in a part of the world where this has been standard operating procedure for centuries, is a non-story, which can only harm our war effort and can in no way be justified by high minded rationalizations of supporting our civil liberties. This is anti-war, anti-American, behavior, and as such, adds to a mounting body of evidence that the Times has lost its way.
My patient was so enraged so much of the time that he could not control his temper even when it harmed him. He alienated teachers, other children, relatives, and had already alienated one or two previous therapists by the time he came to me. As we understood his anger and he was better able to control its outward expression, we were able to see his impulses toward "bear baiting" as reflections of his terrible over-sensitivity to hurt feelings and the rage he felt at real and perceived humiliations.
I think it is likely that the Times, in their terrible humiliation of seeing themselves lose influence and power, is engaged in similar "bear baiting" with the United States government. The Times behaves as if they are humiliated by being ignored by the government; as well, they act as if they can tease the chained up bear with impunity, not recognizing that there are limits beyond which they endanger themselves. If a boy, in teasing the bear, got too close, serious injury could ensue; worse, a boy who was especially talented in infuriating the bear risked an enraged bear breaking the chain and coming free, with disastrous outcomes. The Times imagines the government is constrained by the chain of laws and cultural protections built up over the years for the protection of the press. They do not realize that most Americans recognize the greater threat to be from terrorists who want to kill us rather than from the NSA trying to protect us. They also do not recognize that by going too far they endanger all of our freedoms; the risk of an angry government over-reacting to the treasonous behavior of our major news organizations would endanger freedom of the press for all (including bloggers, whose freedoms have been under attack under the guise of the exceptionally misguided McCain-Feingold for some time now.) The New York Times in their zeal to harm George Bush are threatening to destroy themselves, harm our country and its citizens and destroy the structure of freedom of the press that has been such a vital part of our social contract. Their "bear baiting" has gone much too far and the best hope for the future is a vigorous, but limited, investigation by the DOJ and appropriate jail sentences for those who treat our security so lightly. There is honor and dignity in taking real risks for your principles; there is only dishonor and shame in teasing a chained up, helpless bear. Let us allow the national press the opportunity of regaining their honor and dignity by exacting some real costs for their efforts, even if inadvertent, to endanger all of us.
Update: Kobayashi Maru has an excellent piece up today in a similar vein to my post. In The MSM Franchise - Erosion... and Backlash?, he writes about his concern that a future Democratic administration governing from the left will escalate in reaction to their loss of power to control information and will use the means they know best, which includes lawyers, money, and lawsuits, to silence criticism form the blogosphere:
Which leads to two concerns I have about the First Amendment - neither of which I worry about in the least under this president. I am concerned that Hillary Clinton or some other similarly Nixonian personality on the ropes will get so frustrated at a sustained onslaught of criticism from all directions that they ham-handedly attempt to shut down the blogosphere or, (as the UN has already attempted to do), put control of the Internet into the hands of the devil's band of rogues, fools and despots that seem to run everything else over there. Since the Democrats are - of their own making - the ones on the ropes at the moment, my primary concern is there. Should the tables turn, that concern would shift. I don't see it anytime soon.
It is in that context that the increasingly loud whining by the MSM over the loss of its monopoly franchise is both refreshing and cause for potential concern. (See for example this fisking by Ace of Spades of a whining article about blogs' effect on the MSM by Katharine Steelye in the New York Times.)
Refreshing in that it indicates that blogs really do have influence - that certain noses really have been bloodied and those in power have noticed. Concerning in that it forces one to consider what legal and political steps the MSM, its shareholders and its political benefactors might take to protect themselves under an administration more sympathetic to their views and more reliant on them for support.
His worries are further in the future than mine, but just as significant in the long run.