Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Constitution and the left: strangers who seldom meet

Jess McBride asks a darn good question: why is the so-called "liberal" media silent about the official efforts in Sheboygan to hassle a blogger who has the audacity to question city government?

This isn't the first time, Jess.

Back in 1979 The Progressive -- a small liberal publication based in Madison -- planned to print a fairly boring story about the hydrogen bomb compiled from information already in the public domain.

The Carter Administration caught wind of it and got a federal court injunction barring the little magazine from printing the story.

The New York Times and Washington Post -- iconic bastions of the "liberal media" -- sided with the feds.

While The Progressive struggled to line up enough slingshot balls to take on Goliath -- in the form of the United States Department of Justice -- the staff of The Press Connection (a Madison tabloid founded by striking newspaper workers) had a different idea.

Since the injunction only applied to The Progressive the little tabloid published a parallel article in a special eight-page Sunday edition. The Associated Press picked up on the story, thanks to WIBA reporter Wayne Maloney (in an era when radio stations actually reported local news).

The Chicago Tribune followed by the old Milwaukee Sentinel picked up the story with the not-so-subtle message to Washington: "If you want a fight, The Tribune Company has a lot more stones than those hippies in Madison. Bring it on!"

The Carter Administration dropped its suit, the injunction was lifted and The Progressive printed the H-bomb story.

As a reporter who covered that story for ABC News, I recall well the consternation The Progressive and its editors -- Erwin Knoll and Sam Day -- felt when they were abandoned by traditional allies and befriended by perceived foes. Same for Ron McCrea over at The Press Connection. All of them learned an important lesson.

For the Tribune Company, it was an issue of constitutional dimension and standing up for what's right.

Too bad the New York Times and Washington Post lacked the integrity and guts to follow suit.

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