Tuesday, February 21, 2017

TOP STORY >> Mattis defends our free press

Leader executive editor

A special shoutout to our military brass for staying focused on the challenges facing the United States around the world despite the many distractions in Washington. Special thanks to Secretary of Defense and former Marine Gen. James Mattis, who over the weekend disagreed with his boss and spoke kindly of the media, saying he does not consider the press “the enemy of the people.”

“I’ve had some contentious times with the press,” Mattis said. “But no, the press is a constituency that we deal with, and I don’t have any issues with the press myself.”

Mattis told reporters before he landed in Iraq on Monday the U.S. has no intention of seizing that country’s oil, despite what President Trump said he’d do at an appearance last month at the CIA.

Good for Mattis and good for us. In banana republics, generals declare martial law and shut down the media. In our country, generals vow to preserve our freedoms and keep the presses rolling.

Lenin and Stalin, Vladimir Putin’s forebears, called anyone they didn’t like enemies of the people — vrag noroda in Russian — and had them shot or sent to the Gulag, where most of them perished.

I found out when I was a child in communist Hungary in the 1950s that being called an enemy of the people would get you in trouble. The regime had declared my father an enemy of the people, and not long after he was released from jail, we fled across the border to freedom in Austria and the United States.

A decade later, during the Cultural Revolution in China, Chairman Mao also called those he suspected of disloyalty enemies of the people. A few years later, President Nixon had his enemies list, which was one of the reasons he was impeached. I never expected a president in our times would bring back that ugly term, but here’s a reminder: We’re the only profession mentioned in the First Amendment, which guarantees a free press.

“The only security of all is in a free press,” said Thomas Jefferson, who often quarreled with the press.

“Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it. Were it left to me to decide whether we have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Chris Wallace of Fox News on Sunday told White House chief of staff Reince Priebus to stop demonizing the media and quit telling us how we show should do our job.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said over the weekend that to preserve democracy, we must have a free press. Without it, “we would lose our individual liberties over time....That’s how dictators get started.”

“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war,” said Gen. Tony Thomas, commander of Special Operations Command.

The National Security Council went on hiatus for more than a week with the departure of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn after he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about contacts with the Russian ambassador in December over ending U.S. sanctions against Moscow. Retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward wouldn’t take the job last week as long as White House adviser Stephen Bannon stayed on the council.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s third choice, was named national security adviser Monday. It remains to be seen if McMaster, a first-rate military strategist and author, will have complete control, which would mean Bannon’s imminent departure from the council, where he does not belong.

The plot thickens with the sudden death Monday of Vitaly Cherkin, Russia’s longtime ambassador to the United Nations, a slick but dishonest spokesman for Moscow during the Soviet Union’s waning days and during its transition to a Mafia state.

Churkin, 64, was a key player in Russia’s plot to disrupt our presidential election, and although he takes many of state secrets to his grave, that won’t stymie the FBI and CIA as long as they dig into Putin’s subversion with plenty of evidence laying out the global conspiracy.