With the exception of Jon Stewart, the smartest and most interesting commentators in the media are bloggers. Network television is a cesspit of sensationalist drivel. Newspapers are calcified institutions. Most reporters are now nothing but the mouthpiece of their government or corporate "sources". Radio is a bunch of neanderthals grunting at each other. There is precious little reason to read, listen to, or watch any of the mainstream media out there.
Some bloggers though? Some of them are keeping the fire burning.
Allow me to give you an example of some bright minds having a public conversation on matters of substance in a way that edifies everyone.
Hopefully you know by now that President Obama has publicly announced his intention to target certain individuals he designates as enemies of the United States for elimination. On the list of targets are at least four US citizens. One in particular, Anwar al-Awlaki, is the focus of this particular debate, because he is the only one whose identity we know.
This debate began, because al-Awlaki's father sued to get a court order to ban the government from assassinating his son without due process. In response, the Department of Justice on behalf of the White House filed a brief asking the court to dismiss the case without hearing the merit of the claims on the basis of "state secrets". In other words, to quote Glenn Greenwald, "not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are "state secrets," and thus no court may adjudicate their legality."
Glenn Greenwald, who blogs at Salon, is a persistent progressive civil libertarian. He was joined by Alex Massie at the Spectator in arguing that this represented a massive power grab by the president and a serious threat to constitutionally guaranteed liberties. And here is where it became a true conversation - Andrew Sullivan of The Dish at the Atlantic cited both men and argued briefly against them, saying essentially that this doesn't amount to an assassination, but rather a normal act of war in the context of the global war on terror. Sullivan, having been a vocal critic of the Bush administration torture policies was immediately called out all over the internet for being a hypocrite.
Proving the libertarian strain awkwardly straddles the liberal/conservative divide in this country Sullivan got hit from both sides. Daniel Larison of Eunomia at The American Conservative hit back that Obama defenders who shy from the word "assassination" are no better than the Bush defenders who wanted us all to choke down that Enhanced Interrogation bullshit. Scott Horton of Harper's Magazine used his legal expertise to delve into the issues behind this argument and show why Ex Parte Quirin, the case being used as the major precedent for presidential authority to kill American citizens still requires due process, and probably doesn't even apply in this instance. Greenwald came back the most emphatically with questions for Sullivan to answer, such as would Sullivan be comfortable with a future President Palin having the established authority to assassinate US Citizens without judicial oversight or due process?
They were important, hard-hitting questions. The kind you don't see on CNN or Fox News. Andrew Sullivan took the time to reply, but unfortunately only stoked the fire more since his principal defense seemed to be to reiterate the assertion in the title of his post "We are at war!" as if this justified presidential power-grabs for Obama that he deplored under Bush. Novelist and blogger Barry Eisler took that opportunity to chime in with one of the best essays in the entire conversation tearing Sullivan's arguments to shreds without hyperbole. Greenwald also responded using a parallel example from a current situation in Kenya to drive home how far the United States has gone down the road of authoritarianism when small impoverished countries contending with serious terrorist threats have a higher respect for the rule of law than we do.
The debate may continue, but I think the major points have already been elucidated. Sullivan, unfortunately has not responded to the diversity or strength of the arguments of his opponents, but has chosen instead to rehash his "we're at war" line, which is unpersuasive to say the least. My sympathies lie with Greenwald in this. I can't believe we are even debating whether assassination is a legal option for the President of the USA, but I really appreciate the way this whole conversation has unfolded. No one stooped to ad hominem or hyperbole. Everyone, including Sullivan who I think has got the worst of it, attempted to present reasoned argument for their point of view with relevant factual support. Amazing to see journalists talking like adults.