Among reason’s otherwise excellent pieces criticizing those who blamed the recent Arizona shootings on America’s violent political rhetoric (“The Loughner Panic,” April), I noticed in some a certain “evenhandedness” that I don’t believe was warranted. To be sure, there were a few conservatives and Republicans who fastened upon their own politically motivated explanations for the shootings. But in the main, the baseless finger pointing came from the left. Viewing almost everything through a political prism, many on the left saw the shootings as sanctioned if not motivated by the anti-government rhetoric coming from the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, and others on the right.
I appreciate the need to distinguish the libertarian and conservative brands, but on this matter it was, for lack of a better emblem, The New York Times that was leading the attack.
Vice President for Legal Affairs
I was delighted to see Jesse Walker call bullshit on Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in “Unpacking Jared Lee Loughner.” I interviewed Potok back in 2006 for a piece on Nazi black metal bands for Decibel magazine. At that point, SPLC investigators were keeping a list of bands the organization deemed racist. They shared this list with the Chicago-based Turn It Down campaign, which reprinted it in a 1999 tract entitled Soundtracks to the White Revolution. The problem was that some of the bands on their list had no Nazi leanings or extreme-right associations whatsoever. You can imagine how thrilled the bands in question were. Neither Potok nor Devin Burghart, one of the masterminds behind the Turn It Down campaign, could tell me the exact criteria they used to determine what made a band racist.
Los Angeles, CA
Is Julian Assange a Journalist?
The reasoning in Jacob Sullum’s “Is Julian Assange a Journalist?” (April) turned out to be largely circular. True, the Espionage Act has rarely been applied to journalists. But the reason for that is that it is sometimes difficult to prove that a private citizen knew that release was unauthorized. This material was known to Assange to be classified, and known to be stolen. It is also true that it has been the custom to not charge journalists even if it could be proven that the journalist knew it was classified. But this is just a custom.
Sullum states that private citizens have every right a journalist has. But this implies the converse—that journalists have no privileges that a private citizen doesn’t enjoy. A private citizen does not have a First Amendment right to disseminate material he knows to be unauthorized, so neither does a journalist. Sullum should have concluded that whether Assange is a journalist or not, he can claim no protection against the Espionage Act other than simple custom.
CORRECTION: Jesse Walker’s “Radio Theater” (February) stated that Otto Reich met with staffers at National Public Radio in 1981, shortly after Ronald Reagan’s election. In fact, the meeting took place in 1985, shortly after Reagan’s re-election.