Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Declaring War on Islam

From a WFLA radio interview with Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO; proud owner of a 100 rating from the Christian Coalition) [emphasis added]:

Tancredo: You know, there are things that you could threaten to do before something like that [a nuclear attack within U.S. borders] happens, and then you may have to do it afterwards, that are quite draconian.

Interviewer: Such as?

Tancredo: Well, what if you said something like, um, y'know, if this happens in the United States, um, and we determine that it's the result of, uh, extremist fundamentalist Muslims, um, you know, you could, you could take out their holy sites.

Interviewer: You're talking about bombing Mecca.

Tancredo: Yeah.

Has there been a more revealing moment this year than when Republican Representative Tom Tancredo, speaking on the public airwaves, suggested that the United States might be capable, not just of threatening a nuclear attack on Mecca—Islam's holiest site—but of actually carrying out such an attack?

Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Tom Tancredo, certainly putting America's men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of conservatives.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

From the Horse's Mouth

When Karl Rove made his comments before the New York Conservative Party contrasting conservative and liberal responses to 9/11, the reaction focused on the ridiculous things he said about liberals:

But perhaps the most important difference between conservatives and liberals can be found in the area of national security. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11, liberals believed it was time to . . . submit a petition. I am not joking.
—and rightly so. It was, first of all, an egregious distortion of history. 9/11 unified the nation as few events ever have. When Congress voted to authorize the President to use military action against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and their allies, liberals were fully on board: there was exactly one nay vote out of 498 (400 in the House, 98 in the Senate). Even Bernard Sanders, Congress’s one self-described Socialist, voted for war.

It occurs to me, however, that despite all the ink that has been spilled over what Rove said about liberals, it's not nearly as interesting as what he was saying about conservatives. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan had a point (albeit not the one he intended to make) when he said, in defense of Rove, that he had merely been "pointing out the different philosophies when it comes to winning the war on terrorism." If Rove was maliciously mischaracterizing the liberal viewpoint, well, that's something we've come to expect these days, and it's particularly unsurprising coming from Rove. But he was also describing the conservative position, and we have every right to expect that the conservative Rove, speaking before a conservative audience, actually got this one right. The fact that Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, saw fit to issue an immediate press release of quotations from liberals meant to back up what he called "Karl Rove’s statement of historical fact", tends to support the interpretation that Rove was speaking for conservatives (and Republicans generally).

So what is Rove's message about conservatives? It's all about the rage:

I don't know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt as I watched the Twin Towers crumble to the earth; a side of the Pentagon destroyed; and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble.

Moderation and restraint is not what I felt - and moderation and restraint is not what was called for. It was a moment to summon our national will - and to brandish steel.
I, too, remember how I felt watching the towers fall, over and over and over, on national television that day. First there was disbelief. Then, as the reality and enormity of the attacks sank in, horror and fury. I wanted to strike back hard at whoever had done this. To do to them what we had done to Japan after Pearl Harbor—or worse.

I don't know if any American felt moderation and restraint on that day. But one of the hallmarks of maturity is (or should be) that we don't make decisions, particularly important ones, ones with life-or-death consequences, in the heat of the moment. There's a reason we teach our children to count to ten when they're angry: decisions made in anger are often repented of at leisure. Usually, lashing out blindly is not the best response.

Rove is not the first Bush Administration spokesman to play the "how we felt" card; around the second anniversary of 9/11, John Ashcroft suggested that critics of the Patriot Act "may have forgotten how we felt that day"—as though the immediate emotional turmoil of 9/11 somehow trumps all other concerns.

Now Rove tells us that "moderation and restraint" was not what was called for in the wake of 9/11. Thanks to Mehlman's helpful press release, we can even get some idea of what brand of "moderation and restraint" Rove was objecting to in the petition he ridiculed:

We Implore The Powers That Be To Use, Wherever Possible, International Judicial Institutions And International Human Rights Law To Bring To Justice Those Responsible For The Attacks, Rather Than The Instruments Of War, Violence Or Destruction [Emphasis Mine; Odd And Distracting Overuse Of Capital Letters Mehlman's].
[W]e demand that there be no recourse to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, or any weapons of indiscriminate destruction, and feel that it is our inalienable human right to live in a world free of such arms [ahhh, that's better].
The suggestion seems to be this: conservatives reject the idea that war should be undertaken only after all other options fail (despite the fact that President Bush himself paid lip service to it during the runup to the war in Iraq), or that the United States should forswear the use of weapons of mass destruction hundreds of times as deadly as the 9/11 attacks (the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, mere toys compared to today's nuclear weaponry, killed an estimated 350,000 people).

Equally abhorrent to conservatives is the idea that military action may not be the only, or even the best, way to address the terrorist threat. Rove objects that liberals, rather than planning a rush to war, "wanted to prepare indictments". Mehlman's press release quotes a paragraph from The Bubble of American Supremacy by liberal financier George Soros:

War is a false and misleading metaphor in the context of combating terrorism. Treating the attacks of September 11 as crimes against humanity would have been more appropriate. Crimes require police work, not military action. To protect against terrorism, you need precautionary measures, awareness, and intelligence gathering – all of which ultimately depend on the support of the populations among which terrorists operate. Imagine for a moment that September 11 had been treated as a crime. We would have pursued Bin Laden in Afghanistan, but we would not have invaded Iraq. Nor would we have our military struggling to perform police work in full combat gear and getting killed in the process [emphasis mine].

Never mind that the way the Iraq situation has played out has made Soros look particularly prescient, or that arch-liberal Soros was also on board for the invasion of Afghanistan. Never mind that President Bush himself opted for war only after the Taliban ignored "the U.S. demand, delivered by Pakistan, that bin Laden be handed over to stand trial for the September 11 terrorist attacks". (Wouldn't that have involved, say, "preparing indictments"?)

Ignore all that. The "war against terrorism" is unlike all other wars because terrorism is not a state, can't be surrounded or invaded, and can't surrender. Is it possible that war might not be the answer to the terrorist threat, and that we would have been better off if we had, as Soros suggests, worked cooperatively with the rest of the world to bring the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice? We'll never know. And according to Karl Rove, we shouldn't even bring it up. Because we felt like war on 9/11, before we even had a chance to think about it. Emotion trumps all.

This, according to Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, is the spirit of conservatism and the Republican Party today. And I suppose they should know.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Rights of Conscience

Opponents of church/state separation say that it's a myth foisted upon the American people by militant secularists bent on oppressing Christians and removing all hints of religion from the public square. They imagine that abandoning the concept would usher in an era of renewed morality as we allowed God back into our schools, prominently displayed His Commandments on our courtroom walls, and acknowledged the Biblical principles on which this nation was founded.

The fly in this particular ointment can be summed up in a simple question: "Whose Biblical principles?" Anti-separationists either never ask themselves this question, or assume that their own principles (being obviously correct) must prevail.

This ignores both history and current reality. If our founding documents enunciate a religious principle, it's not the Biblically exclusionary message of the First Commandment ("Thou shalt have no other gods before Me") or the Gospel of John ("no man cometh unto the Father, but by me"); it's the freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment's "free exercise" clause. As Thomas Jefferson wrote:

The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws. But our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1784)

On top of this, modern American society is probably the most religiously diverse the world has ever seen, with adherents not only of the major (and minor) monotheistic faiths, but also Buddhists, Hindus, pagans, agnostics, atheists, and who knows who else. Any government entanglement with religion is bound to affront, disadvantage or even oppress large numbers of these people.

And, as it turns out, you don't have leave the friendly confines of Christianity to find such effects. As the Washington Post reports from Jackson, Mississippi:
A Christian adoption agency that receives money from Choose Life license plate fees said it does not place children with Roman Catholic couples because their religion conflicts with the agency's "Statement of Faith."

Bethany Christian Services stated the policy in a letter to a Jackson couple this month, and another Mississippi couple said they were rejected for the same reason last year.

You can chalk this up to simple ignorance among the people at BCS; according to one of the rejected couples, their priest reviewed the statement and saw no conflict with Catholic teaching. But it's hard to imagine that a Christian who would discriminate against Catholic applicants on religious grounds would hesitate to discriminate against Jews and Muslims, much less Buddhists or Secular Humanists.

It's also hard to imagine why any government funds at all should be going to support this kind of nonsense.

(A tip of the cap to atrios for the pointer to the Post article.)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Playground Tactics

It's now official: There is no limit to the pettiness of the current Republican congressional leadership.

Two months ago it was Republican staffers rewriting House Judiciary Committee reports to make it look like Democrats had offered amendments for the explicit purpose of aiding "sexual predators". Challenged, Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-2nd Grade) defended the practice:

You don't like what we wrote about your amendments, and we don't like what you said about our bill.
Today, it's Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist offering his own amendment to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill for fiscal 2006, H.R. 2360, purportedly "To protect classified information and to protect our servicemen and women." The goals sound noble, but the text of the amendment (courtesy of Josh Marshall) reveals a different agenda:

Any federal officeholder who makes reference to a classified Federal Bureau of Investigation report on the floor of the United States Senate, or any federal officeholder that makes a statement based on a FBI agent's comments which is used as propaganda by terrorist organizations thereby putting our servicemen and women at risk, shall not be permitted access to such information or to hold a security clearance for access to such information.

It doesn't take much analysis to recognize the Senate's top two Democrats in this sentence.

  • Harry Reid, the Minority Leader, made reference to a confidential FBI report during the debate on the nomination of Henry Saad to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. (He revealed nothing about its contents except to mention that it showed "a problem" with Judge Saad—information that had long been public.)
  • Dick Durbin, the Minority Whip, read from FBI e-mails to denounce the mistreatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. (The risk to American troops is purely conjectural; in any event, the material Durbin used was made public in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.)
Frist offered his amendment in response to an attempt by Reid to amend H.R. 2360 "To prohibit Federal employees who disclose classified information to persons not authorized to receive such information from holding a security clearance." This, just as clearly, was targeted at Karl Rove, and there's certainly an argument to be made that it was untimely (and should wait until the special prosecutor completes his investigation), unseemly (as a partisan attempt to "stir the pot", in the words of the Associated Press), or both.

The amendments are not parallel, however, in at least two respects. First of all, if interpreted broadly, Reid's amendment makes perfect sense: people with security clearances who reveal classified information should probably have their clearances revoked. Second, if (as it appears) Rove really did reveal Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent to the press, then he did real harm. As fellow CIA officer Larry Johnson comments, "When Novak outed Valerie he also compromised her company and every individual overseas who had been in contact with that company and with her." (This is, of course, the reason such disclosure is prohibited in the first place.)

If Rove is somehow found not to have leaked Plame's identity, then the Reid amendment wouldn't apply to him. Otherwise, regardless of whether or not Rove knew that Plame was covert, his behavior deserves censure: it was either criminal or flagrantly irresponsible.

So, to sum up,

  • Democrats offer amendments to a bill enforcing abortion notification;
  • Republicans portray them in official documents as advocates for "sexual predators".
  • Democrats offer legislation to deal with real misbehavior;
  • Republicans strike back with a tu quoque amendment that would punish the discussion of public information.
Sounds about right.

P.S. The Reid amendment failed on a straight party-line vote; the Frist amendment fared worse at 33-64. Atrios says that quite a few Republicans were set to vote Yea until they saw which way the wind was blowing. Maybe they just needed some time to reflect on what they were about to do.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Streamlined to Death

When the issue was whether a shell of a woman with no higher brain function should be kept alive in apparent defiance of her own stated wishes, Congressional Republicans and the White House were ready to move heaven and earth to ensure that her case got more federal judicial attention than the law required.

When the issue is whether a state is about to execute a person wrongly convicted of a capital crime, it’s a whole different story.

Anyone who’s followed the history of the Innocence Project knows that our judicial system is less than perfect. Since 1989 the Project has used DNA evidence to free 159 wrongfully convicted prisoners, some from death row and others from life imprisonment. Some had actually confessed; others were victimized by mistaken eyewitness testimony, sloppy laboratory work, unscrupulous prosecutors, or inept defense attorneys. In every case a court had found them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

It’s worth noting that the Innocence Project deals only with cases involving DNA evidence; innocent prisoners in cases without testable DNA have no such recourse. If there’s a reason why we should expect the judicial system to function any better when DNA isn’t involved, I haven’t heard it. So we have every reason to believe that there are thousands of innocent people serving time—or awaiting death—in American prisons.

As far as I can tell, there are two basic takes on these facts, which are demonstrated in their purest form by examples from the neighboring states of Illinois and Missouri. The first is the position of Illinois governor George Ryan, who, despite his belief in the propriety of the death penalty, declared a moratorium on executions and then, before leaving office, commuted the sentences of everyone on Illinois’ death row. Ryan commented that he'd "sleep well knowing I made the right decision."

The other is exemplified by this exchange between a Missouri judge and a prosecutor trying to prevent a death-penalty case from being reopened (there's no word on the prosecutor's sleep prospects):
Judge: Are you suggesting [that] even if we find Mr. Amrine is actually innocent, he should be executed?

Prosecutor: That's correct, your honor.

Of course many people will find themselves between these extremes, but for those closer to Governor Ryan's end of the spectrum, the question will necessarily be how best to prevent the ultimate miscarriage of justice.

The habeas corpus petition is a powerful tool that allows prisoners, including the wrongly convicted, to challenge the constitutionality of their state-court convictions before a federal court. Absent a Schiavoesque special act of Congress, habeas corpus is the only recourse for prisoners who have been mistreated by the state courts and have exhausted the review process at the state level. And, as we now know, a significant number of these prisoners are in fact innocent.

So, unless you're as sanguine as that Missouri prosecutor about executing innocent people, the last thing you'd want to do would be to curtail habeas corpus review. Right?

Representative Dan Lungren (R-CA) and Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) beg to differ. They've introduced the "Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005" (H.R. 3035, S. 1088), which, according to the Washington Post, has "alarming momentum" in both houses. For those of us on Governor Ryan's side of the divide, "alarming" is exactly the right word. The bill would impose new time limits and filing requirements on habeas corpus petitions to the Federal judiciary and have the effect of making it much harder for a prisoner to use the federal courts to remedy a wrongful state court conviction.

I'm no lawyer, and I can't offer a detailed analysis of the legislation. But I was struck immediately by the first provision of the bill (out of about twenty amendments to existing federal law), which redefines when an application for a writ of habeas corpus may be granted. Current law (Title 28 of the U.S. Code, section 2254(b)) specifies these conditions:

(A) the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State; or
(B)(i) there is an absence of available State corrective process; or
(ii) circumstances exist that render such process ineffective to protect the rights of the applicant.
In the Kyl/Lungren bill, these circumstances are "streamlined" as follows:

(A) the applicant--
(i) has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State by fairly presenting and arguing the specific Federal basis for each claim in the State courts; and
(ii) has described in the application how the applicant has exhausted each claim in the State courts; or
(B) (i) each unexhausted claim for relief in the application would qualify for consideration on the grounds described in subsection (e)(2); and
(ii) the denial of such relief is contrary to, or would entail an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.
And, just for good measure,

(4) Any unexhausted claim that does not qualify for consideration on the grounds described in this subsection shall be dismissed with prejudice.

The first thing to notice is that the Kyl/Lungren version strikingly narrows the conditions under which federal review is appropriate. Currently, this can occur any time the state appeals process is insufficient to protect the petitioner's rights. In Kyl/Lungren, these rights disappear in favor of strict procedural requirements.

My non-lawyerly reading of the 2254(b) rewrite is that it would require the petitioner's attorney to argue all relevant points of federal law during the state appeals process, and thus would require state courts to rule on the correct application of federal law. This shouldn't be a problem for the state courts, though, since only "clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" can be considered when granting a writ of habeas corpus.

But think about this for a minute. In the 1963 case Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court ruled that Clarence Earl Gideon had been denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel (made binding on the states by the Fourteenth Amendment) when the State of Florida refused to appoint him a lawyer in a non-capital felony trial. In this decision the Court firmly established that access to basic constitutional rights could not be conditioned on the ability to afford them; the Constitution protects rich and poor alike.

But if "Streamlined Procedures" had been the law of the land in 1963, this case would never have been heard. In deciding Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court reversed the standing precedent of Betts v. Brady, which had held in a similar 1942 case that the Constitution did not require appointment of counsel. That is, at the time of Gideon, the action of the Florida state court denying Gideon's habeas petition was not "contrary to . . . clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." It was in fact consistent with Supreme Court precedent as expressed in Betts. Gideon would have had no case, and he and countless indigent defendants in the years since would have been denied the right to counsel. And, let me reiterate, this includes the innocent ones.

Maybe this is what Lungren, Kyl, and the four Senate co-sponsors of S. 1088 really want. If so, I'd love to see them come right out and say so. So far the arguments I've seen in favor of the bill (e.g., here) totally ignore the Constitutional rights of prisoners in favor of "closure" for victims and their families.

Victims of violent crime certainly deserve to be treated with dignity and sensitivity. But the Constitution doesn't guarantee a right to closure, and it does prohibit cruel and unusual punishment. According to one of the authors of a study on death sentence reversals, "we suspect that simply removing this [i.e., the federal] level of appeal will lead to the upholding of death verdicts with serious errors." The Washington Post is undoubtedly correct when it points out: "It is no exaggeration to say that if this bill becomes law, it will consign innocent people to long-term incarceration or death."

If being executed for a crime you didn't commit isn't cruel and unusual, I don't know what is.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Botch Shamefully

This bumper sticker is a little late for the campaign season, but more apposite than ever (image clicks through to store).

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Brickbat for The Times

Adam Cohen in yesterday's New York Times brings to our attention the story of a North Carolina judge who last month refused to allow Muslim witnesses to swear on the Qur'an, saying that if he allowed that, someone who worshiped brick walls might want to swear on a brick.

On the strength of Cohen's piece, I was prepared to hurl a brickbat of my own at the judge, W. Douglas Albright—something along the lines of ". . . and a religious pluralist might want to swear at the judge"—but Cohen apparently got it wrong. A local paper, the Greensboro News & Record, reported last month that it was not judge Albright who made the "brick wall" comment, but rather a spokesman for the state Administrative Office of the Courts in Raleigh.

Judge Albright may still deserve criticism for preventing the use of the Qur'an on the grounds that state law mentions only the "Holy Scriptures", and "Everybody understands what the holy scriptures are. If they don't, we're in a mess." Or not. After all, questions of church/state separation aside, we're talking about North Carolina here, and there's no doubt what the legislature had in mind when it used that phrase.

But a big raspberry to that AOC spokesman, Dick Ellis. This is one of the stupidest things said about religion since Lt. Gen. William Boykin's celebrated disquisition on comparative religion: "I knew that my god was a real god and his [Allah] was an idol".

And, really: who, if anyone, is doing the fact checking at The Times these days?

Update, 7/13/05:
The Times printed a correction today. Don't know if it was my e-mail to the Editorial Page editor that did the trick, but meseems that the Times' phrasing is eerily similar to what I sent.

Two American Flags

This Fourth of July, for the first time, my house sported the Stars and Stripes.

It's not as though I just started being a patriot. I've always felt fortunate to live in a country founded on the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, a country that claims to stand for equality, liberty and justice and that, at its best, actually strives to achieve them.

It's rather that I never felt that I had to wear my love for my country on my sleeve. But this year I decided that the Rightist appropriation of the Flag and the patriotism that it stands for has gone too far. It's my flag too.

And yet, I suspect that in significant ways my flag isn't theirs.

Their flag is a sacred object. The House of Representatives continually passes versions of a constitutional amendment allowing Congress to "prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States [my emphasis]". ("Desecrate", for those who haven't checked their dictionary lately, means "to violate the sacredness of; profane.") When the Supreme Court struck down laws that prohibited burning the flag, William Rehnquist wrote in his dissent of the "[m]illions and millions of Americans [who] regard it with an almost mystical reverence".*

My flag is a symbol. As Alfred Korzybski famously pointed out, the map is not the territory; the symbol is not the reality. The flag is important not in itself but for the values it stands for; it is they that command our respect, and it is through our commitment to them that we honor or dishonor the flag.

It is a particular irony, from this perspective, that the House of Representatives has voted to "protect the flag" by curtailing one of the very freedoms it symbolizes: the freedom to dissent. From the beginning, dissent has been central to the American system. Two presidents who served a hundred years apart insisted on this in no uncertain terms:

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
     - Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.
     - Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)

Sadly, if we travel forward another hundred years, we reach an Administration with little use for dissent, from John Ashcroft, who said to critics of the USA PATRIOT Act, "your tactics only aid terrorists", to Karl Rove, who implied that liberals, by their outcry against prisoner abuse at Guantánamo, had intentionally increased the danger to members of the U.S. armed forces. They tell us that it is patriotism to defend our borders but treason to defend our ideals.

No, I don't fly their flag. I fly a flag that says this country is honorable not just for what it is, but for what it could be; not for the physical security of its "homeland", but for its founding principles, and the hope that we may still achieve them.

*This reverence can be taken to astonishing extremes. Over the weekend I chanced upon a segment of the children's program K.I.C.K.S. Club on the Daystar Evangelical cable network, which followed up a homily on patriotism with a graphic showing a constellation of American flags surrounding the verse "and his banner over me was love", from the Song of Solomon. The promotion of the flag from a symbol of an earthly nation to God's Own Banner is just another symptom of the unhistorical "Christian Nation" nonsense we hear these days from prominent Religious Right figures like Roy Moore and Franklin Graham. (On the other hand, isn't that just what Congress threatens to do by declaring the flag capable of profanation?)

Apparently none of these people got the memo from Christianity Today, which Slacktivist (who knows these things better than I) identifies as "the journal of record for the mainstream evangelical establishment." As an editorial in the July issue points out, "The not-so-subtle equation of America's founding with biblical Christianity has been shown time and again to be historically inaccurate. . . . [M]ost of the founding fathers . . . were not orthodox Christians, but instead were primarily products of the Enlightenment."

Friday, July 01, 2005

Running Scared

Public Broadcasting must be running scared. According to this report in The New York Times, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is so concerned about its funding that it's preparing a television project "to impress Congressional patrons" that appears to violate PBS's own journalistic standards.

According to the "Public Broadcasting Service Editorial Standards and Policies", PBS holds its producers to three basic journalistic standards: fairness, accuracy, and objectivity. Of objectivity, the Editorial Standards state:

To begin with, journalists must enter into any inquiry with an open mind, not with the intent to present a predetermined point of view.

The CPB's $20-million project "America at a Crossroads" will include a film by Brian Lapping about Richard Perle, a prominent neoconservative proponent of the Bush Doctrine and one of the driving forces behind the war in Iraq. Lapping's "very longstanding friendship" with Perle dates back to the 1960's, and there's no doubt at CPB what form his film will take:

[CPB senior VP for TV programming Michael] Pack said that the Perle film will make the case at length for an assertive United States foreign policy . . .

In fact, CPB was so sure that Lapping's film will violate the objectivity standard that it solicited proposals for another film with a "predetermined point of view": this time, a view critical of White House policy. The countervailing film will be produced by Frontline producer Sherry Jones, and, in the words of a CPB press release, will examine "how the implementation of the so-called Bush doctrine has alienated traditional American allies, tarnished America's image abroad and possibly made the world more dangerous."

Is this a case of two wrongs possibly making a right? I'm skeptical. The idea that truth will emerge from a clash of adversaries has a long history, most notably in the U.S. adversarial system of criminal justice. But it's often not true, as the Innocence Project has amply demonstrated. Sometimes the only things that emerge from such a clash are noise and heat. In the cases of at least 159 wrongly convicted prisoners exonerated by the Innocence Project, the truth had to wait for objective evidence examined impartially.

In today's media climate of "red facts" and "blue facts", it's easy to forget that some things are simply facts. For example, it's a fact that "the so-called Bush doctrine has alienated traditional American allies [and] tarnished America's image abroad". You can argue over whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but the basic truth of the statement is not in doubt.

PBS's Editorial Standards warn producers against "camouflaging straightforward facts", which is considered a violation of the fairness standard. Yet by casting Jones's film as an ideological counterweight to Lapping's, CPB has implicitly camouflaged any factual content it may end up containing by removing it from the "facts" bucket and dropping it into the "blue facts" bucket, where "red" viewers are free to ignore or discount it. Just as "blue" viewers will discount what they see in Lapping's film about Perle.

Viewers not already committed to a color may be tempted to see the films as defining opposite ends of a spectrum, where the truth likely lies somewhere near the middle. Fred Clark at Slacktivist discusses this phenomenon from the opposite point of view, decrying the fallacy of justifying one's opinion by the fact that it's centrally located between extremes. But his quote from Patrick Nielsen Hayden applies here too: "Justice isn't a function of averaging." Neither is truth.

Objectivity is not easy to achieve, but that's no reason for throwing up our hands. The pursuit of fairness, accuracy and objectivity is the foundation of journalism and we'll all be worse off if we abandon it.