The Breakfast Table


Dear David,

It’s been fun e-mailing with you. We got quite a time slot, too!--sex, violence, the whole country in a fever of one kind or another.

Too much CNN for my vacation. But I’m going to fix that next week, and take a break in the cool, quiet north. Maybe I’ll even go to Canada and take advantage of that breakfast special.

It’s interesting that we’re ending up talking about Kennedy. Was he more believable than Clinton? He certainly had a lot more illicit sex, at least according to Seymour Hersh. No one dared to ask him about it in public. I hardly think we’d have had a full, honest accounting from him if they did. Those were in some ways more civilized times. But the deceit and the subversion of democracy that went on then were just as bad, while buried. On matters of national security, Kennedy lied about the U.S. involvement in trying to assassinate Ngo Dinh Diem, prime minister of South Vietnam. And he publicly denied, at first, the Bay of Pigs.

When it comes to national security matters, Presidents are almost expected to lie. Eisenhower said there was no U-2 spy plane. When confronted with evidence, he said: I lied.

During Vietnam, I.F. Stone said with some authority that nothing politicians say should be believed. Nowhere are the lies bigger or more worrisome than on matters of national security–the government persuades the press and the citizenry that it’s in our best interests to be kept in the dark and deceived now and then, just to protect us.

The idea is that, in times of crisis, we have to suspend normal rules of openness in order to protect our very survival as a nation. But of course the national-security defense has grown so large, it covers just about anything.

With these recent bombings, it looks like we’re on the verge of a dangerous new national-security era.

Thomas Pickering said in a press conference today: “There may be more such strikes. We’ll act unilaterally when we must.” It sounds to me like they’re suspending the rule of law indefinitely.

Again and again we’ve heard from Sandy Berger and William Cohen today that this is part of a “long term battle” that we have to be prepared for more acts of terrorism and counterterrorist strikes by the United States–a whole new perpetual war. It’s a crisis, you see, and they can’t afford to tell us the details. Just have faith, stand by, they have a secret plan.

This is a dangerous and destabilizing strategy. I think it is the role of journalists to object, to insist on knowing more, to reject being spoon-fed propaganda.

Christmas sounds like a good time to get square on our bet. You get the last word at the Breakfast Table … see you in Babylon.