New England editorial roundup
New England editorial roundup
The Associated Press
Jan. 03, 2015
The Day of New London (Conn.), Dec. 27, 2014
Nearly a century ago, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., in issuing an opinion on a First Amendment case, famously wrote, "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre."
We wonder how Justice Holmes and the rest of the high court would have ruled if they were forced to pass judgment after sitting through a screening of "The Interview" — by most critical accounts, not a fire, but a bomb of a movie, described in a Boston Globe review as "a dopey bro-com that piddles along delivering mild laughs until it turns overly, unamusingly bloody in the climactic scenes."
In some ways it's too bad that "The Interview" wound up as a cause celebre for free speech because we hate to see appallingly bad taste rewarded — the clunky plot ridicules North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, and involves his attempted assassination — especially when it's executed so poorly. After all, if North Korea — as the United States claims — hadn't tried to intimidate Sony Pictures by releasing embarrassing hacked emails and then issuing vague warnings of retaliation, the movie studio wouldn't have become such a free-speech champion (after initial cowardice), and wouldn't have enjoyed boffo success at the box office.
This newspaper joined a chorus last week that included President Barack Obama in lambasting Sony for caving to the anonymous cyber threats and pulling "The Interview" before its premiere. Then the entertainment giant had a change of heart and decided to screen the movie in 300 theaters, instead of the initial 3,000, on Christmas Day and also to stream it on such digital platforms as YouTube Movies and Google Play.
The response could not have been better scripted: sold-out showings and brisk Internet business — all for a movie that likely would have had lackluster ticket sales without all the off-screen drama.
Still, the larger issue prevails: This nation must not allow anyone or any government to suppress the First Amendment.
Incidentally, the Justice Holmes decision in which he invoked the "fire in a theatre" reference justified suppressing free speech if it posed a "clear and present danger" — in that case, punishing under the Espionage Act of 1917 anyone who distributed leaflets that urged young men to resist being drafted into the military. A half-century would pass before the court abandoned this interpretation.
We doubt if 50 years from now legal scholars will cite as a precedent "The Interview" controversy. Still, the show must go on.
The Cape Cod Times, Dec. 30, 2014
The debate over the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA treatment of its prisoners has been predictable and depressing. The moral and legal implications of what was done in America's name were quickly tossed aside in favor of a debate over whether the immoral, illegal actions accomplished anything.
Less than 20 years before the CIA began kidnapping and torturing — and yes, it was torture, not "enhanced interrogation," if words are to have meaning — those in its custody, President Ronald Reagan signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture. "Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today." How quickly far-right conservatives who say they revere Reagan reject the simple morality that was so central to his outlook.
But in this sorry repeating of talking points that have marked our debate over torture for the last decade, some important revelations in the Senate report are being missed. It reveals disturbing evidence of incompetence, poor decision making and lying on the part of the CIA.
According to the report, top CIA officials ignored the advice of trained and experienced interrogators within the CIA, FBI and other agencies — including some who had already established relationships with detainees who were providing useful information. It outsourced the program to contractors — led by two former Army psychologists — who had no experience in interrogation, no knowledge of al-Qaida and no ability to speak the language of the detainees. CIA leaders lied to the Intelligence Committee, the report says, and didn't even tell the president about the program until years after it began.
Given its decades-long record of mendacity, it's a wonder anyone believes the denials and obfuscations of current and former CIA officials. But everything in Washington is partisan these days, even when a situation cries out for a unified response from officials who have all sworn to uphold the rule of law.
Even if Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on whether the CIA's actions constitute torture, and even if they cannot agree on how effective such measures are, surely they can agree that America needs a CIA that uses its expertise effectively, executes its policies coherently, and tells the truth to those charged with overseeing its operations.