LOS ANGELES – On Page One of Friday's New York Times, the paper broke one of the biggest stories of the year: surveillance of international bank records to track terrorists.
Was it "treason" for the paper to print this important story, over the objections of the government? Some have called it just that, including New York Rep. Peter King, not to mention my fellow guests Friday on Neil Cavuto's program on the Fox News Channel.
I don't think so, any more than it was treason for the same paper to print the Pentagon Papers decades ago over similar objections, or to print reports of government wiretapping without warrants under the NSA program-- much discussed in recent months.
This is what a free press does.
So out I went to defend the press, once again. Once more into the breach on behalf of the so-called liberal media.
But it doesn't make my job easier, or help the press with its cause, when it starts playing the same games as my buddy Ann Coulter does. Turn to the editorial page of the same day's paper and what you'll find is not the objective media wrapped in the First Amendment, but a sad exercise in name calling by the local bullies who own the biggest microphone around.
What's wrong with the New York Times? Consider the headlines Friday.
“A Look at Republican Priorities” read one.
And what are those priorities, according to America’s paper of record?
“Comforting the Comfortable” and “Afflicting the Afflicted.” Because they support eliminating the estate tax and oppose raising the minimum wage, the Republicans are said to be the Party that comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted.
According to my Liberal Friends, I spend much of my time in the lion’s den, where one of the constant charges is that the mainstream media is dominated by liberals. Some days, they make my job impossible.
Now I happen to disagree with the Republicans, and agree with the New York Times, on the substance of both the estate tax and minimum wage issues.
On the estate tax, I believe it is fair, in the interest of collecting revenue, to tax inherited superwealth, particularly since the tax we’re talking about here is limited to the top .5 percent of all American estates, and excludes 99.5 percent of us, including what my mother left me.
I think there is very substantial evidence that rebuts Republican arguments that people lose family farms and family businesses because of the estate tax; those folks are in the 99.5 percent to whom the tax does not apply-- unlike, as the New York Times points out, the Waltons of Wal-Mart and the Marses of Mars bars, who are doing just fine and can afford to pay the estate tax.
But does that justify calling names?
The fact is that when you tax inherited wealth, you’re taxing money that’s already been taxed once. The question whether, and to what extent, people should be allowed to pass on wealth is debatable, at least. One can argue that if the principled answer for 99.5 percent of us is yes, it doesn’t automatically make you an unprincipled person to conclude that it should be yes for everyone. It just means that you and I disagree.
But the estate tax issue is “easy” compared to the second charge in this morning’s lead editorial.
Does opposing an increase in the minimum wage mean you are in favor of “Afflicting the Afflicted?”
On the merits, I agree absolutely with the New York Times, and with the proponents of a higher minimum wage. At $5.15 an hour, without any increase in almost 10 years, the minimum wage today means that a full-time worker earns a yearly income (assuming he or she works one job) almost $6,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.
You can’t support a family, you can’t even pay rent in most cities, on a yearly income of $10,700. Most Americans do support increasing the minimum wage.
But there are some people who disagree, and in my experience, they are not all mean-spirited ogres. Over the years, I have had this debate with any number of small businessmen and women, as well as economists and politicians, who have expressed the concern that increasing the minimum wage will depress hiring at the low end of the scale, or push more workers into the black market, cash economy where there are no benefits and no protections .
It is a legitimate argument.
It is not one that I happen to find persuasive, but it does not mean that those who put it forward are interested only in afflicting the afflicted.
I’ve been on television long enough to expect the Ann Coulter look-alikes to talk in slogans and rhymes in the hopes of attracting attention, always questioning the motives of those who disagree with them, tossing ugly jabs in the air in the hopes that they’ll be invited back, offered a contract, given a show.
But does the New York Times have to stoop so low?
Are they afraid no one would read their editorials if they weren’t promoted with nasty headlines that question the good faith of those on the other side?
Are they no better than Ann when it comes to insulting their opponents?
I appeared on Dayside the other morning with Ann, where she was asked again about her gratuitous insults of the 9-11 widows. This time, her response to the host was that no one who actually had read her book (which of course Juliette had) could possibly pick this paragraph as deserving of mention on the air.
The point seemed to be that it was there simply to get the attention it has, not because it was an essential element of her case. I’m sure that’s right.
Screaming an insult is an easy way to be heard. Cheap thrills. Bullies have always understood that. People will stop to look at a fight in progress, even if the sight appalls them.
But is this really the best we can do?
When one of the most distinguished newspapers in America descends to name calling to draw attention to its opinions, what does it say for its opinions? Or for our culture?
How low have we sunk?
Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the Fox News Channel.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership.
Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.