In what seems an eternity ago, but was only last month, Senator Tom Cotton wrote an op-ed for the New York Times. The fallout, from a media perspective, was loud and swift, as it directly led to the resignation of the paper’s opinion editor James Bennet.
It left some curious detritus in its wake, as over the ensuing weeks, public letters about protecting vigorous debate were published, and opinion writers at the highest perches of the industry decided to call it quits, arguing they couldn’t sit under the sword of Damocles, waiting to lop off their heads if they had a bad take.
Why bring up an almost-two-month-old opinion piece top by a Senator? Because it was the blueprint for a federal response to protests in states, but also in a way has provided cover for Senate and House members to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in Portland, Oregon, where federal agents are allegedly unlawfully detaining protesters.
Not to re-litigate the op-ed, but the tl:dr version: Cotton argues that “nihilist criminals are simply out for loot and the thrill of destruction, with cadres of left-wing radicals like antifa infiltrating protest marches to exploit Floyd’s death for their own anarchic purposes.”
His cure to this imagined disease:
“One thing above all else will restore order to our streets: an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers. But local law enforcement in some cities desperately needs backup, while delusional politicians in other cities refuse to do what’s necessary to uphold the rule of law.”
The pace of looting and disorder may fluctuate from night to night, but it’s past time to support local law enforcement with federal authority. Some governors have mobilized the National Guard, yet others refuse, and in some cases the rioters still outnumber the police and Guard combined. In these circumstances, the Insurrection Act authorizes the president to employ the military “or any other means” in “cases of insurrection, or obstruction to the laws.”
This venerable law, nearly as old as our republic itself, doesn’t amount to “martial law” or the end of democracy, as some excitable critics, ignorant of both the law and our history, have comically suggested.”
Seven weeks later, those three paragraphs have now jumped off the page of the New York Times and into practice in Oregon, as federal agents rolling around in unmarked vehicles are detaining protesters, according to continued reporting from Oregon Public Broadcasting.
The Trump administration is using the Federal Protective Service, basically a federal police force housed under the Department of Homeland Security used to protect federal property (think of the armed agents stationed outside a federal courthouse), to allow other federal agencies, like ICE and Customs and Border Patrol to support FPS in detaining people they believe to be desecrating federal property.
This is directly from the acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli in an interview with NPR last week.
And talking with the Washington Post on Sunday, Cuccinelli warned that the federal response in Portland is just the beginning.
“You can expect that if violence continues in other parts of the country, the president has made no secret of the fact that he expects us where we can cooperate or have jurisdiction to step forward and expand our policing efforts there to bring down the level of violence.”
And this is why New York Times staff took to social media in the wake of the Cotton op-ed with the phrases: “Running this puts Black @nytimes staff in danger” and “Running this puts Black people, including Black @nytimes staff, in danger.”
So we now have a federal response to a state’s issue ordered by the self-proclaimed “law and order” president who, on Sunday, told Fox News that should he lose the election, he may not participate in the very foundation that makes America great: the peaceful transfer of power.
(If you haven’t, watch [or read] the Fox News interview. It’s a doozy.)
Trump is given cover by Senate and House Republicans who write op-eds advancing dangerous political theories, but also by Senate and House Democrats too afraid to hold the executive branch accountable.
But we also have two interesting points here: on the one hand, the Portland story gained national attention because of local reporting. On the other hand, local news is, as we’ve discussed, heading toward oblivion. And the effect of local news decimation is the public cannot see when their elected officials (or business leaders) do criminal stuff.
Portland is the harbinger. We’ve been warned. Or as Esquire writes:
We need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission now, before the dress rehearsal becomes a road show.
Rage Against the Machine, “Killing in the name of”
Some interesting links:
The Best Ad Slogans to Get Americans to Wear Masks (Bloomberg)
Disney Slashed Ad Spending on Facebook Amid Growing Boycott (WSJ)
An Ex-Times Reporter. An Ohio Wedding Provider. Covid Contrarians Go Viral. (NYT)
Even brands not in the Facebook boycott have slashed social ad spend (Ad Age)
As the revolving door swings (American Prospect)