Debunking Today's 'Oregonian' JTTF Coverage
Unto The Breach Once More, Before The Vote
How many licks does it take to provide the context The Oregonian manages somehow to miss on the Joint Terrorism Task Force debate? Let's find out.
First, there's their front page story, in which the City's alleged terrorism expert rears his head once again.
"What this basically says is that Portland is a very politically correct and very naive city that is also very paranoid," said Gary Pearlstein, a criminology professor emeritus at Portland State University who opposes leaving the task force. "I'm not sure that's going to surprise anyone, but it might surprise the City Council to know that J. Edgar Hoover is dead."
Pearlstein, whose grandfather, a labor organizer, was investigated by the FBI under suspicion of being a communist, says federal law enforcement practices have changed since the days when Hoover and his agents kept detailed files on the personal lives of political enemies.
Readers may remember Pearlstein (or Perlstein, depending on what source you believe), because we took a look inside his mind one month ago today. That look found stories on how Perlstein isn't much respected in his field, and has expressed support for investigating someone "because he was a Muslim, used a computer, transferred large sums of money".
He's also not very infomed on the subject upon which the local media asks him to pontificate, as evidenced by his contention that "law enforcement practices have changed since the days when Hoover and his agents kept detailed files on the personal lives of political enemies". As we've repeatedly pointed out -- and as has been repeatedly ignored by the traditional press in this town -- more recent history has sown the JTTF out in Denver in fact was caught spying on people for their political and/or religious activities.
We understand that this fact -- which demonstrates the dangers of JTTFs without proper oversight -- is fairly inconvenient for proponents of participating in our own JTTF without proper civilian oversight of Portland police officers, but it's really not the job of the newspaper of record to continually ignore facts that are inconvenient to their editorial position.
Ah, their editorial position. That brings us back around to the paper's abuse of its op-ed pages, which we most recently recapped in an item about the paper's publisher expressing support for the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans.
Since the debate over JTTF oversight began in earnest, in addition to the editorial board's own published comments, they have used the op-ed pages almost enirely to support their own position, rather than to reflect both sides of the debate and community conversation, which is the traditional purview of the op-ed page, a facet of American newspapers never meant to simplybe a rubber-stamp of the paper's own editorial positions.
In today's editorial, the paper mainly praises Commissioner Dan Saltzman for being a "voice of reason" on the issue. Why? Because (lo and behold) the paper today also published an op-ed piece by him.
Here are the important problems with Saltzman's piece. First, he compresses and reduces the entire debate over proper JTTF oversight to the premise that it's possible to "be concerned about the far reach of the USA Patriot Act and still support the Joint Terrorism Task Force". We don't dispute that premise, since it's a perfectly legitimate position to take.
But the problem with it is that the debate has never merely been about the USA PATRIOT Act. It's been about the very real potential for abuse of people's civil liberties, as evidenced by the previously-mentioned -- and always ignored -- case involving the JTTF in Denver.
Ignoring the evdience that such abuses are very, very possible under the JTTF system allows Saltzman to dodge the responsibility of offering up some solutions of his own to the problem of proper civilian oversight of Portland officers assigned to the JTTF. It's extraordinarily convenient for him, especially given this bit: "We must continue to work to ensure that the Patriot Act and the rest of our homeland security laws adequately safeguard the civil liberties that are at the core of our American values."
How, precisely, does he suggest we continue to work to ensure those things? If not by demanding proper oversight of our own police officers, then how? Saltzman, sadly but unsurprisingly, is entirely silent on that. As we said: How convenient for him.
Then there's the moment at which Saltzman comes dangerously close to pulling a Jack Peek and claiming rhetorical ownership of the spectre of 9/11. "It's difficult to imagine looking a New Yorker in the eye and explaining our rationale for withdrawing from the terror task force," he says. "It would feel disrespectful to even attempt to do so."
We lived in New York State, and for some of that time in New York City. We continue to know many people who live in New York City, who were there on that particular fateful day. Many of those New Yorkers we know fully support the premise that the war on terrorism cannot be used as an excuse to turn a blind eye to maintaining proper oversight of our nation's -- or our cities' -- law enforcement officials.
We repeat what we've said here before, also one month ago today: "You don't own that day. It isn't yours alone. It belongs to all of us." Stop using it as a convenient political weapon to advance your own beliefs.
Finally, for those on either side of this debate who wish to witness the vote, City Council resolves the matter of participation in the Joint Terrorism Task Force this evening at City Hall, in a session to begin at 6:30 PM.