Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ashcroft's Press Pass

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ashcroft's Press Pass

Article excerpt

Attorney general seeks news media's compliance in paving the way for authoritarian 'Patriot Act II'

Whenever a public official complains that the press is doing a poor job explaining a controversial issue, you can bet that the news media have nailed it for once. That's especially true when the complainant in question is U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Like Dr. Frankenstein pleading the case of his monster, Ashcroft the other day entreated some two dozen newspaper editors, publishers, and news broadcasters to portray more "accurately" his draconian creation, the gallingly misnamed USA Patriot Act. For someone whose personal religious beliefs forbid dancing, Ashcroft did an awful lot of light-footing around the facts during his exhortation from the prestigious platform of an Aspen Institute conference.

According to a New York Times account of the session by Adam Clymer, Ashcroft urged the press to report that federal authorities have used only sparingly the sweeping powers they were granted under the Patriot Act to rummage through the records of libraries and bookstores, or bug every telephone a "person of interest" may happen to use. Even with this allegedly light use, Ashcroft said: "Over the past 20 months, the Patriot Act has become a critical reason for our success in the war against terrorists, stopping further attacks in the United States."

Ashcroft provided no hard numbers for any of his assertions -- let alone specifics that could be subjected to real public scrutiny. …

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