Last night I had some down time to enjoy a very thought-provoking movie on Netflix called Nothing but the Truth (2008). The movie tells the story of one journalist who daringly exposes the government through her newspaper for covering up its tracks in unilaterally fighting against the Venezuelan government (fictionally of course but not utterly without context, as the Bush administration had its fair amount tensions against Hugo Chavez). The story itself is cited to be “watergate,” “Pentagon paper” big. Reporter, Rachel Armstrong, went ahead with the story exposing what happened to be her neighbor, whose daughter goes to the same school as Rachel’s son, as the CIA agent who warned the President against going into Venezuela. Special prosecutor, Patton Dubois, pressures Rachel to give away her source for the story, but Rachel adamantly refuses, citing confidentiality. Rachel is subsequently thrown into jail for holding the court in contempt.
The thematic struggle between free press and big government is pervasive throughout the whole movie. The case questions the strength of our republic and the nature of civil liberties in a post-911 world. What is truly mind-boggling is the eerie reminder of a real case years back (and what I later found out to be a relevant plot inspiration): the case of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s expose by Robert Novak of Washington Times in 2003 regarding the uranium enrichment activity in Africa that was cited as an important piece of support evidence for the U.S. going into Iraq (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plame_affair).
An aside: If you do not know what I’m talking about here, please do look into it at your leisure hours. Scott McClellan, the former press secretary under Bush 43, wrote a book called What Happened, that details some of the decisions within the administration prior to going into Iraq, with a chapter on Valerie Plame. Questions to ponder (I’m still looking): Why did the U.S. go into Iraq in 2003? What were some of the criticisms against the Bush administration at the time? Are they legitimate? What about the case of Valerie Plame? (Another movie called Fair Game theatrically tells the story of Valerie Plame) How does the Plame case play into the criticisms against the Bush administration? What about torture?
Against this backdrop, I watched as the story unfolds depicting a brave journalist who is placing her principle above all else, her family included. One cannot help but sympathize her situation. What’s worse or perhaps unexpected is the film director’s hint that the CIA agent herself is also a victim in this whole situation, not dissimilar to the Plame case, in which the White House seems to be gutting her under a bus. In a struggle for truth, where do we draw the line between “national security” and “First Amendment?” How can our government protect us if it is above us? How can the people hold government accountable if they are deprived of their First Amendment rights due to national security concerns? These are not mere constitutional issues debated in the classroom of law schools across the country. They are existential political and legal issues that all republicans (people living in a republic - small “r”) need to wrestle with. Movies like this often make me wonder: how much power do I really have against the government? Am I really naive to think that my political voice as a citizen can check a government backed up by the most capable and destructive military on earth, supported by a web of highly-trained special force and clandestine operatives? I shutter that thought here. But I encourage you to think about the ramifications of that and ask yourself: how can we the people maintain power if we are not watchful of our own government? In a hyperpluralistic society like ours, there are good apples, and there are bad apples. How do we keep the bad apples out if we don’t participate?
It is a often told story that Benjamin Franklin answered a woman after the Constitutional Convention when asked whether the Constitution created a monarchy or a republic, he answered, “A republic, madame, if you can keep it.” This sentiment cannot be truer today in 2012.