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I Scream Sunday

July 4th is nearly upon us, but if you're looking for fireworks, don't worry about waiting until Tuesday or even going outside. Just take a gander at what went down on NBC's "Meet The Press" and CBS' "Face The Nation" yesterday.

On "Meet the Press", conservative commentator Bill Bennett spared with assembled journalists about the decision by The New York Times and other newspapers to publish a report about a government program examining banking transactions in an effort to fight terrorism. You can watch the debate here. Bennett clearly gets frustrated, particularly with Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, who he has in the past called upon to be imprisoned for her work. (Here's the full transcript.) "It's not time to break out the champagne and the Pulitzers," said Bennett. "This is not about politics, not from my perspective. It's about the United States of America and the security of the United States of America. The difference is, the government was elected. People may not like the Bush administration, but they were elected and they are entitled to due consideration on these matters."

Columnist William Safire subsequently addressed the question of "who elected the media to determine what should be secret and what should not?"

"…the answer to that is, the founding fathers did," said Safire. "They came up with this Bill of Rights beyond which the constitutional convention would not move unless there were a First Amendment to challenge the government...just as the American founding fathers challenged the British government. Now it's not treasonable, it's not even wrong for the press to say we're going to find out what we can and we'll act as a check and balance on the government."

On "Face The Nation," meanwhile, Times executive editor Bill Keller defended his newspaper. (Transcript and video here.) Here's a bit:

The founding fathers had the notion that amateurs, meaning journalists, could actually look into the affairs of their government and lay them bare for the public to make judgments. We don't do it lightly. In a case like this where the government contends that there could be some damage to publishing the information, we give that a long, respectful, thoughtful consideration. Sometimes, as I said before, we come down on their side, but not always. And, you know, what's the alternative? I think the founding fathers didn't much like the idea that you would take everything the government said at face value. Sometimes we're thrust in the awkward position of having to make a decision against the advice of elected officials.
I know there is much fun to be had over this holiday weekend, but there are worse ways to celebrate Independence Day than watching (or reading) these discussions in full.