Safire and the Use of Language:
William Safire's column in the New York Times today is an interesting example of how to use word choice and innuendo to make your argument. Safire starts with a set of facts that as best as I can assemble look something like this:
The Supreme Court recently denied certiorari in a case involving two journalists, Judith Miller and Matt Cooper, who were held in contempt for failure to comply with a court order requiring them to testify in a criminal investigation under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has been seeking the testimony of the two journalists for the last year, but the journalists' refusal to disclose the source of leaks that led to a Robert Novak column 2 years ago about a CIA agent apparently has brought the investigation to a standstill. The precise details of the potential role of the Miller and Cooper testimony remain under seal, however.After the facts have been Safirized, the language comes out looking like this:
The Supreme Court has just flinched from its responsibility to stop the unjust jailing of two journalists - not charged with any wrongdoing - by a runaway prosecutor who will go to any lengths to use the government's contempt power to force them to betray their confidential sources.To be clear, I don't necessarily mean to be critical of Safire here. My own view is that Safire is being a bit over-the-top, but this is an op-ed, and Safire is apparently friends with Miller. I think it's just interesting to watch language-maven Safire use language on a topic that he obviously cares about a great deal.
The case was about the "outing" of an agent - supposedly covert, but working openly at C.I.A. headquarters - in Robert Novak's column two years ago by unnamed administration officials angry at her husband's prewar Iraq criticism.
To show its purity, the Bush Justice Department appointed a special counsel to find any violation of the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act. . . .
Evidently no such serious crime took place. After spending two years and thousands of F.B.I. agent-hours and millions of dollars that could better have been directed against terrorism and identity theft, the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, admits his investigation has been stalled since last October. We have seen no indictment under the identities protection act.
What evidence of serious crime does he have that makes the testimony of Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine so urgent? We don't know - eight pages of his contempt demand are secret - but some legal minds think he is falling back on the Martha Stewart Theory of Prosecution. That is: if the underlying crime has not been committed, justify the investigation by indicting a big name for giving false information.
Thus, if the reporters resist the coercion of the loss of their freedom, the prosecutor can blame them for his inability to go to trial on the "heavy" charge. But if they cave in, he can get some headlines on the ancillary charge of false statements.