It was not a good week for the media. They were yelled at in church and accused of treason in The Washington Post. In both cases, the critics had a point. In both cases, they overstated it.
In Oak Park, Ill., last Sunday, Chicago Cardinal Francis George, making his first public appearance since returning from the bishop’s conference in Dallas, addressed the faithful at St. Giles Catholic Church. Actually, he addressed some of the unfaithful, too, as several reporters and cameraman had taken up positions in the church.
The Cardinal was not happy to see them. He told them not to take notes on what he said. And he compared them to the communist spies that he used to encounter when he conducted services in Polish churches. He said that, on those occasions, he "knew there was someone there from the government in the assembly that was recording or taking notes. You had to choose your words carefully because they would be used against the church later."
The Cardinal’s comments were both impolitic and justified. Impolitic because the Catholic Church these days is so tarnished by the actions of its pederasts that it should be blushing at its misdeeds, not lashing out at those who chronicle the misdeeds. It should, in other words, be playing defense, not offense.
But justified because the media had no need to intrude on a mass. They could have spoken to Cardinal George either before or after he preached, rather than disturbing a church full of devout parishioners during their weekly time of worship. As the Cardinal himself said, the mass that day was a time for the laymen and Roman Catholic leaders alike to "heal a broken church and heal the family." The presence of reporters was an abrasion of the wound.
"I accuse the media in the United States of treason." So reads the first sentence of a piece in last Sunday’s Washington Post by U.S. government terrorism analyst Dennis Pluchinsky, who explains his charge by referring to a number of post-Sept. 11 newspaper and magazine reports.
"Many of these articles," he says, "have clearly identified for terrorist groups the country’s vulnerabilities—including our food supply, electrical grids, chemical plants, trucking industry, ports, borders, airports, special events and cruise ships. . . . No terrorist group that I am aware of has the time and manpower to conduct this type of extensive research on a multitude of potential targets."
Pluchinsky goes on: "This country is at war. Do you honestly believe that such stories and headlines, pointing out our vulnerabilities for Japanese and Nazi saboteurs and fifth columnists, would have been published during World War II?"
In my view, the problem with Pluchinsky’s charges is that the media reports he cites did not provide information so specific it could benefit terrorists—not, at least, to the extent he suggests. As far as the American intelligence community knows, none of those "vulnerabilities" has been targeted since Sept. 11.
On the other hand, why publish even the most general of information about the American infrastructure? Why take even the slightest chance of providing a time or a place or a description that will benefit the anti-American cause? Because the public has a right to know? A need to know?
It has neither. I, for one, can lead a perfectly fulfilling life and still remain ignorant of the locations of American electrical grids and chemical plants. I can be a productive member of society and still be in the dark about the mechanics of port or border or airport security. In fact, I’m already doing it.
And so the moral of these stories seems to be two-fold: First, the foes of American media should be more temperate in their criticisms. Second, the employees of American media should give fewer reasons for criticism.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT .