The Plank

Should The Inky Make Yoo Talk?

Will Bunch is arguing that the Philadelphia Inquirer, which employs John Yoo as an occasional columnist, should pull his gig unless he talks to the federal investigators looking in to the Bush-era warrantless wiretapping program:

So John Yoo gets paid to spout off about the news of the day, on his
own terms, but when agents of his country's intelligence agencies
wanted his help in a major investigation, he clammed up. I think that's
a huge ethical problem. Here's why.

Like most institutions, newspapers can be horrible at practicing
what we preach. But let us at least remember and re-state what
newspapers do preach, and that is transparency...and the
truth. John Yoo may have a legal right not to talk to investigators in
this circumstance, but when he does that and then tries to pass himself
as a journalist. even an opinion journalist, he's trying to have it
both ways, and that's wrong. Yoo has also shown that
he supports government secrecy and restrictions on a free press
in a manner that anyone in the media should find truly appalling. If
he's not willing to be transparent about his actions and the truth of
what happened during the Bush administration, his privileged platform
as a columnist should be in jeopardy.

I'm not usually a fan of slippery slope arguments, but, that said, I think Bunch's argument is a slippery slope for any supporter of a free press. Do we really want to set a precedent in which a newspaper tries to compel an employee to testify to the government--or said employee loses his job? Yes, the actions Yoo would be testifying to were taken in his capacity as a government official--not as a journalist--but it's not so hard to envision a scenario in which a journalist is asked to testify to the goverment about something he did in the course of his journalism and his newspaper bosses--not wanting to deal with the expense and hassle of fending off those investigators--tell the journalist: testify or else.

Besides, I think it's pretty obvious the main reason Yoo even has a column at the Inquirer is because its publisher actually admires what Yoo did in the Bush administration, so his refusal to testify probably to testify makes the publisher like him even more. There are many reasons Yoo shouldn't have an Inky column--first among them, as Bunch notes, is the fact that he's a lame columnist--but his refusal to talk to the feds shouldn't be one of them.

--Jason Zengerle


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