The Hammer and the press

Tom DeLay is one crooked son of a bitch.

I do not say this because I am part of the “vast left-wing conspiracy” that his well-funded PAC says is teaming up against him. I say this because he is, bluntly, one crooked son of a bitch.

I am saying this in a newspaper, on the Opinion page. I say this because as an American, my First Amendment rights allow me to say this. I draw your attention to his alignment – crooked, shady, and mean – because in a democracy, it is important that everyone stay informed. On issues, and on our officials, we must constantly keep each other up to date on what is going on in our democracy. That is the press’ function.

And now there is a concerted effort by a number of Republicans and DeLay supporters to condemn anyone who attacks DeLay as partisan, unethical, crooked, shady and mean.

“There are certain liberal newspapers, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, that are out to get Tom DeLay,” was the first volley in the propaganda campaign. This statement, by Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., is threatening for a number of reasons.

First, it completely denies the role of a free press in a functioning democracy. If a public official becomes corrupt and acts against the public interest, it is the duty of the press to report on the nature of the corruption. Rep. Weldon does not defend the allegations against “The Hammer,” as DeLay is affectionately known, but instead immediately counter-attacks any reason that a press outlet could have for highlighting his corruption.

There is another, more sinister, effect of his statement. The New York Times and the Washington Post do not identify themselves with any particular ideologies, right or left. This is in contrast to avowed conservative outlets such as the New York Post, the Washington Times and Fox News. By characterizing neutral newspapers as liberal, then anytime Republican corruption is highlighted in any form of media, it can be attributed to partisanship. These attacks on the messenger have recently become a favored tactic of propagandists.

Dan Allen, a spokesman for Tom DeLay, has at least gone so far as to address the nature of the corruption as well. “The fact that the New York Times is targeting Congressman Tom DeLay is the height of hypocrisy. The fact is that Democrats are doing the same thing [as DeLay], and the New York Times is not singling them out on the front page.”

What Allen fails to mention is the names of any Democratic politicians who have accepted lobbyist bribes so openly or embezzled half a million dollars through their immediate families out of their campaign fund, or the name of anyone who is guilty of what DeLay is charged with.

Besides, if there was a Democrat who is as blatantly corrupt as The Hammer, why isn’t Fox News doing a smear campaign on them? As a conservative news outlet, it would surely highlight any Democratic corruption of such a magnitude, if it had evidence of any. But it does not, because right now DeLay is the most crooked son of a bitch in Congress.

The only defense the Republicans have left is to portray any communication of evidence of DeLay’s corruption as hypocritical, disingenuous political attacks against a man who does no worse than anyone else. They will not want the debate to focus long on the facts, or the financial records, or DeLay’s neutering of the very ethics committee that investigates such abuses as he is accused of. They would rather not have us talk about that.

But they do not have exclusive right to the topics of national conversation. They may have well-funded think tanks, immense press power, global media syndicates, the presidency, both houses of Congress and a 7-2 majority in the Supreme Court. But we still have the right to speak, even if it is the truth.

The only hard part in propaganda politics is getting enough people to hear what you have to say. Finally, more than three years after Sept. 11, 2001, our mainstream press seems to be removing its voluntary muzzle. Democracy is on the way back.

Chaelan MacTavish can be reached at [email protected]