President George W. Bush's harsh criticisms of the New York Times and other media outlets for their reporting on covert and potentially illegal spying programs underscores once again the degree to which a major crack has appeared in America's democratic edifice.
The Bush administration's reasoning is founded on a twisted form of Catch-22 logic. It goes something like this:
1. This war on terrorism is our new Cold War, and it will last a generation or two.
2. Because we are at war it is necessary to engage in certain behaviors—renditions, torture, domestic surveillance, secret prisons.
3. We cannot tell you what we are doing because it will compromise national security during a time of war.
4. The courts cannot review what we are doing because it will compromise national security during a time of war.
5. Any newspaper reporter or news outlet that reports a leak of these programs can be put under oath and forced to reveal sources, under threat of going to jail for contempt.
6. Only select members of Congress can know. But they cannot tell anyone because it will compromise national security.
7. When Congress passes laws, the president has the right to ignore them if he believes they infringe upon his war powers or his role as Commander in Chief.
8. The courts cannot review the president's decision in Rule no. 7 because it would compromise national security.
Taken in their totality, these eight rules amount to an end-run around the Constitution. By the time one reaches the final rule, you realize how fragile American democracy has become.