by Max Brantley
In 2006, Tom Cotton, a twentysomething US Army lieutenant serving in Iraq, wrote an open letter calling for the prosecution and imprisonment of two of the New York Times' most prominent reporters, Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, who had just broken a major story about how the government was tracking terrorist financing. The letter, which also called for the prosecution of Bill Keller, the Times' then-executive editor, was initially published on the conservative blog PowerLine but soon went viral.
There's much here about how others reported similar information and about how Republican officials invited reporters to see some of the effort to track terrorist financing. Needless to say, the Times wasn't prosecuted, defended its work and won the Pulitzer Prize. You'd think Beth Anne Rankin, Cotton's primary opponent, would look better in light of this, but a desire to prosecute the New York Times probably is a philosophical fit with many "base"GOP voters. Indeed, though Mother Jones said the issue hasn't gotten much attention, his wingnut-beloved letter was trumpeted by his allies in 2010 when he talked briefly about running against Sen. Blanche Lincoln.
Many criticized the Times' reporting, but few took it to Cotton's lengths. Says Mother Jones:
Steven Aftergood, an expert in government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, says he doesn't necessarily agree with the Times' decision to publish but that Cotton's legal judgment is lacking. "Should the Times have been indicted and prosecuted? Of course not," Aftergood said, laughing. "To believe in the free press means to allow for the exercise of editorial judgment. If you want to say people cannot choose to publish such information, then you don't believe in a free press."
Cotton has no regrets.
"Tom speaks his mind on topics about which he's passionate—including the Times' disclosures of highly classified national security matters," a spokesman for Cotton's campaign said Wednesday. "Tom is confident that the Times will respect his rights of free speech and cover his campaign in a fair manner consistent with journalistic ethics."
If only he'd had similar respect for journalists' First Amendment rights.
You might recall that Cotton's intemperate writing — his castigation as a college student of use of the Internet in classrooms — earned a little attention not long ago. In that case, at least, his opinion has changed.
Republican apologist provides Cotton loving cover. Maybe Cotton's restrictive view of the 1st Amendment will come for the apologist's words someday. But it will be OK if popular sentiment supports a constitutional override.