February 07, 2007

The Grating Ahistoricism of Short News Reports

by PG

I may have unintentionally implied that I blamed Prof. Peter Strauss for the incredibly poor use of his knowledge that was made in a New York Times article. I don't -- I blame the writer and editor of the article. I can't tell whether the media fears context because it will make them seem more biased (the stuff that gets them in trouble if they mention under a headline about a Jerusalem suicide bomber that his sister had miscarried when her ambulance was held up at a checkpoint), or if they're just lazy.

Sometimes they can manage a bit of it, if it's fairly recent. Take the Washington Post article about Nancy Pelosi's request for a larger jet so she can fly nonstop to California. Because only one other Speaker had gotten a government plane, and he was the guy with the job on 9/11 and right before her, the Post didn't find it too painful to note what had been the Hastert habit so readers could compare it to the Pelosi practice.

No such help for the reader in this article about the Justice Department's firing various federal prosecutors, and in at least one case doing so to make room for a more experienced attorney who happens to be a former worker for Karl Rove and for the Republican National Committee. How many federal prosecutors were fired during the Clinton era, and how many of their slots were filled by Democrats? The only historical hint is:

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have been further angered by a little-noticed provision slipped into USA Patriot Act legislation last year that now allows Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to appoint replacement prosecutors indefinitely. Feinstein and other Democrats in the House and Senate have proposed legislation to repeal the legislation and return to the old process, which allows district courts to appoint interim prosecutors after 120 days.
But there's nothing about who put that provision into the Act, nor how well the old process worked in getting quality prosectors in office, nor even some basic explanation of who would appoint the permanent, non-interim prosecutors after the district courts put in their interim prosecutors. If Gonzales is going to have the power to move out any interim prosecutor chosen by the district court anyway, does it really matter whether there's ever an interim prosecutor at all, unless Gonzales is slow on the uptake and sometimes fails to fill posts?

February 7, 2007 02:40 AM | TrackBack
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