On WDEV radio Tuesday morning, we caught Howard Coffin plugging his latest book -- Guns Over the Champlain Valley. It's a guided tour of those key battles that occurred in our neck of the woods more than 200 years ago. They were the battles that turned a colonial insurgency into the Revolutionary War.
That same morning, newspapers across America carried the chilling news that the U.S. Supreme Court had declined to consider the appeal of two Washington-based journalists who refused to tell a federal grand jury the identities of their confidential sources. Instead, the ruling of the lower court stands.
And the ruling of the lower court turns back the clock, to a time when there was no such thing as a "free press" anywhere on Earth. The journalists now face jail time.
In 2003, conservative columnist and Bob Novak outed covert CIA Agent Valerie Plame. He did so based on information he had received from "confidential government sources" that he did not name.
A criminal investigation was subsequently launched because it is a federal crime for a government official to "knowingly" release the name of a covert operative. Prosecutors in Washington convened the grand jury to catch the unknown leakers. But in a Kafka-esque twist, columnist Novak was not called as a witness!
Instead, two other reporters, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Judith Miller of The New York Times, were ordered to testify. Miller never even wrote about the Plame matter.
When one appears before a grand jury as a witness, both one's lawyer and one's constitutional rights are checked at the door. The prosecutor can ask any question he or she wishes, and the witness must answer.
Cooper and Miller refused to identify their confidential sources. They claimed the First Amendment gave them the constitutional right to protect those sources. To do otherwise would have forever left them on the trash heap of American journalism. That's how fundamental this principle is to a free press, folks.
"Paramount among the responsibilities of a free press," wrote Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, "is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people."
And we say "amen" while acknowledging with sadness that the current American corporate-controlled press failed miserably to perform that duty regarding the Iraq deception that George W. Bush & Co. successfully perpetrated.
Unfortunately, government lawyers in the Valerie Plame case successfully convinced an appeals court that, in America, reporters have no such constitutional right to protect sources.
As for the current case, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that the Bush administration used Novak for the purpose of retaliation against the CIA agent's spouse, a career foreign-service diplomat named Joseph Wilson. Mr. Wilson, you'll recall, had been sent to Africa in prewar 2002 to find "evidence" that Saddam Hussein had bought uranium for his secret WMDs that, we now know, did not exist.
Not surprisingly, Wilson found no evidence linking Saddam to African uranium. None.
To the Bush White House, Mr. Wilson had not been a team player.
It was, no doubt, a public-relations setback for the Bush-Cheney-Haliburton "We Want War" Club, but they successfully overcame it by pumping up the national terror "threat level" and turning up the rhetoric on Saddam's frightening, though nonexistent, WMDs.
Hey, it worked, didn't it? Let's give credit where credit is due.
The administration wanted payback, so they leaked, and Novak reported in 2003 that Wilson had been recommended for the "sensitive" African witch hunt by his covert CIA agent wife. Novak went ahead and wrote it, despite a federal law that makes it a crime, under certain circumstances, for a government official to leak the identity of a covert agent.
But to this day, Novak has not been called by the federal grand jury investigating the leak!
Wouldn't George Orwell get a kick out of this one?
It may be a boiling-hot June afternoon in Vermont, but yours truly cannot escape the chill.
If America's press is no longer free to expose the government deception Justice Black referred to, then it's over, folks. The freedom won, at a price of life and limb, in those battles around Lake Champlain around 225 years ago no longer exists.
Recently "Inside Track" broke the story that Burlington Attorney Ritchie Berger will be picked to become the next United States Attorney for the District of Vermont. That's Uncle Sam's chief law enforcement office in our little world. We did so citing confidential sources.
Since we are at war and secrecy is at a peak, what's to prevent the current acting-U.S. Attorney David Kirby from coming after yours truly, demanding we reveal to a grand jury our sources on the leak regarding the new federal prosecutor appointment?
Obviously, the current U.S. Supreme Court couldn't care less. That's probably why we didn't give Mr. Kirby a call Tuesday afternoon to get his view of the matter. No need to plant a seed in his brain, eh?
And, David, if you're reading this on Wednesday, please don't get any ideas. Just joking, OK?
P.S. If you think it can't happen here, check out "Local Matters" on page 09A and learn how Burlington Police recently invoked the Patriot Act in requesting private library records.
Vietnam II -- Seven Days goes to press before President Bush's big Tuesday night speech to the nation on Iraq. The fact that our Commander-in-Chief's address to the American people will actually be a televised, pro-war pep rally before a flag-waving, captive audience of U.S. Marines at Fort Bragg does give one pause. The echoes of the cinematic tradition of Leni Riefenstahl's German propaganda films of the 1930s are disturbing. Will what worked for Adolph work for George?
Remarkably, it was columnist Bob Novak, a passionate "hawk" during the Vietnam War and staunch critic of the weak-kneed, liberal, antiwar doves, who stunned many CNN viewers recently by declaring he had been wrong about Vietnam.
A victory for Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Novak now says, was "inevitable." And had he and the White House changed their tune in 1968 and faced that truth, said Novak, thousands and thousands of American soldiers would not have been killed and maimed. And Sen. John McCain would not have sat in the Hanoi Hilton prison camp until 1973.
Novak suggested the current Bush Iraq policy needs to be examined in a similar light.
Surprisingly, this is one where "From the Right" Novak and "From the Left" U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy see damn near eye-to-eye.
"The president, the vice president, the secretary of defense said, 'Stay the course,'" Leahy told "Inside Track" the other day. "I recall terms like that during Vietnam.
"They've said that we're succeeding when even our commanders in the field say, 'No, we're not.'
"They say the insurgency is being beat, when the people in the field say the insurgency is getting stronger.
"I'm just waiting for one of them to say, 'We see the light at the end of the tunnel.'"
The Bush administration, said St. Patrick, "began the war without thinking about what would happen once we got there." They invaded, he said, "with false expectations."
The same could be said of President Lyndon Johnson's invasion of Vietnam, eh?
And it was positively dejà vu all over again the other night to hear a U.S. Army corporal describe the feeling of not being able to tell the "bad guys" from the local population because "they all look alike."
"Vice President Cheney said we would be greeted as liberators in Baghdad," said Leahy, "and so far we've been greeted with bombs and explosive devices."
So what was Leahy hoping President Bush would tell the nation Tuesday night?
"Right now," said Vermont's senior senator, "the president has got to be honest with the American people, say we do have problems, and tell us how quickly we're going to turn this over to the Iraqis so they can defend their own country."
Welch Announces -- As expected, State Sen. Peter Welch announced on Tuesday he will seek the Democratic nomination to fill the U.S. House seat Bernie Sanders is giving up.
Sanders is running for the U.S. Senate seat Jim Jeffords is giving up.
Jim Jeffords has been traveling by wheelchair lately, recovering from knee surgery. He's not running for anything.
Unfortunately, our deadline made attending Welch's Statehouse campaign kickoff impossible. But in addition to what you'll read and watch on local news, sources say it was a much too long and drawn-out affair for such a hot and humid day. Windy speeches and windy weather, we're told, prevailed and mussed hairdos as ex-Govs. Phil Hoff, Tom Salmon and Madeleine Kunin lauded their favorite son.
Everyone knows former State Sen. Peter Shumlin's shadow is looming. For Shummy to succeed, he'll have to organize the party's New Guard and show how out of touch the Old Guard has grown.
Hoff, by the way, ruled Vermont in the 1960s. Salmon had the 1970s, and Queen Madeleine's reign was in the 1980s. Their endorsements won't carry much weight with the young voters of 2006.
Ten Commandments -- There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth this week over the Supreme Court rulings regarding the display of the Ten Commandments on government property. It reminds us how the American view of the rest of the world is so different from our view of ourselves.
When religious leaders in other countries cross the sacred line between church and state, the U.S. news media always describes them as "religious fanatics." But the same media describes homegrown, all-American religious fanatics who cross the same line as "devout Christians."
Truth is, we have just as many religious fanatics as do countries where the the religious leaders are called mullahs and ayatollahs rather than reverends or ministers or priests. America's extremist religious faction is alive and well, and has played an important role in putting the current regime in power.
Say a little prayer, eh?
This writer's late, dear old dad was a devout Roman Catholic. He never missed Sunday mass and he never missed voting on Election Day. Practicing his religion freely and practicing his politics freely were rights he personally treasured. But he had a pet peeve about his church sticking its nose into his politics.
His annoyance stemmed from growing up in a country that had not yet tasted freedom. As a young man in Ireland, he joined the IRA, and served from early 1920 until his capture by the British in May 1921.
At that time, membership in the IRA meant instant excommunication from the Catholic Church. In Ireland, the "one true church" was, unfortunately, on the side of the British occupation and against the notion of the Irish running their own independent country.
Remember, this was a man who prayed the Rosary until his dying day. Only the death of his little brother in battle tore at him as deeply in later years as being denied the sacraments simply because he fought for freedom.
So it isn't hard to imagine what dear old dad might say about the current legal controversy involving church and state, and just where he'd tell 'em to stick their Ten Commandments.
Media Notes -- Finally, WCAX-TV's new star female co-anchor has arrived at the right hand of Marselis Parsons. Actually, she's just returning to Ch. 3 after a couple years covering the more grisly news stories of Massachusetts for NECN. One thing Kristin Kelly said she learned from her Bay State beat is that you can die just about anywhere. To prove her point, she recalled stories she covered of an exploding lobster boat and a man getting swallowed by a front-yard cave-in.
Ms. Kelly, a graduate of Barnard College and NYU's journalism school, replaces Sera Congi, who left for a Boston gig of her own.
On her unheralded opening night last Wednesday, Marsillyiss surprised many viewers by not acknowledging the sudden appearance of his better half. In fact, things were a little shaky the first night.
"I've had a few chokes," admitted Kelly. But things have tightened up quickly. And despite Parsons' earlier refusal to release information about the new arrival, the station is already running spots with the king officially welcoming the new queen to the anchor desk.
Strange world that TV news, eh?
Bernie Ineffective? -- It received little local press, but last week Rep. Bernie Sanders' firm support was not enough to stop the U.S. House from ceasing Medicare payments for erectile-dysfunction drugs like Viagra and Cialis. (Remember, guys, if it lasts longer than four hours, see a priest, No, sorry, call your doctor!)
Not even most House Democrats sided with the Vermont Independent in opposing the amendment sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R-IA). The measure passed on a 285-121 up-or-down vote. What's it all about, Alfie?
Surprisingly, Ol' Bernardo did not issue any press releases about his support for free erectile dysfunction drugs for the elderly. Most Vermonters are unaware of his support.
"Any federal prescription drug program should cover all medicines that a patient and doctor agree are necessary," said Bernie's Chief of Staff Jeff Weaver. "We don't need federal Medicare bureaucrats deciding which physical ailments deserve treatment and which do not."
We tried to get Mr. Weaver to comment on whether Bernie fought long and hard enough for poor Viagra users, but he declined the bait.