Yelling "Fire" When There's a Fire


Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal's opinion page, is complaining about the

Big Media's handling of Abu Ghraib, a real story that got blown into a monthlong bonfire that obviously was intended to burn down the legitimacy of the war in Iraq. I think many people thought the over-the-top Abu Ghraib coverage, amid a war, was the media shouting fire in a crowded theater.

Italics mine, to emphasize Henninger's enviable omniscience.

The fire-in-the-theater analogy is almostly precisely inapt:

This is from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Schenck v. U.S. (1919), setting limits on the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Junior, wrote: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic."

Key word being "falsely." I'm sure Henninger doesn't mean to imply that reporting on crimes committed by U.S. troops is not protected by the First Amendment, right?

As for Abu Ghraib coverage being synonymous with attempts "to burn down the legitimacy of the war" (an extremely widespread view), tell it to Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Sullivan, John McCain … and Reason's own Charles Paul Freund, Cathy Young and Nick Gillespie. Speaking personally, I never backed the war (nor did I oppose it … still making up my mind), I'm no fan of Bush's foreign policy, and I think Abu Ghraib is a horrifying story that deserves more media scrutiny, not less … but I have no interest whatsoever in "burn[ing] down the legitimacy of the war," and in fact hope to hell we succeed like gangbusters over there. I would be surprised if this was a rare view in America's newsrooms.

Has Abu Ghraib coverage been disproportionate and colored by anti-Bush bias? Sure, that's plausible, even likely. But to accuse an entire profession of being essentially traitorious and agenda-driven is much less so. (Link via InstaPundit.)