HH: I’m joined now by John Podhoretz, columnist for the New York Post, author of Can She Be Stopped?, one of the co-founders of the Weekly Standard, long time resident of the media world, a great person to talk to about what NBC did. John Podhoretz, we haven’t talked, I don’t know what you thought, I’ve been asking a lot of people cold today. What do you make of NBC’s decision to air this yesterday?
JP: Well, I mean, I actually started to write a column today not exactly defending NBC’s decision, but to try to make the point that in this universe, there is no way to keep this information, visuals, video like this from becoming public. And I found after about two hours, that I couldn’t write it, that it didn’t hold up logically, and I give you the following, which is NBC gets this material yesterday, it is under no moral, spiritual, political obligation to do anything with it except show it to the authorities. Since it has these stuffs exclusively, it has the ability to choose when and where, and in what manner it can release the information that is in this multimedia packet. And I just don’t think that there’s any question that it did so in a way that was calculated not for the public interest, or for the public good, or to be sensitive to the families, or to help the nation heal, or anything like that, but specifically and plainly to help in a ratings war against ABC in its nightly news, and against ABC in its morning news. And under those conditions, I don’t see how one can view their decision making or their choice as anything but strictly craven. They should just acknowledge that they did it for ratings advantage, and move on from there.
HH: Would you call it without precedent in your experience?
JP: Well, I mean, in a funny way, of course it isn’t without precedent, because you know, in history, the Zodiac killer’s communications were published. The Unibomber’s publications were published. In each of those cases, however, one of the reasons for the publication was an effort to prevent a crime from taking place.
HH: Exactly. It’s not precedential.
JP: Here, we have…right. Now, but I’m going to play devil’s advocate with you for a minute, Hugh. You are a great believer, you know, in your book, Blog, in others, in the notion that we live in a different era in which the ability of the mainstream media to control information, to parcel information out, is being broken, that the monopoly hold is over. Well, how then do you square that idea with the notion that here is a piece of, you know, here is an enormous piece of information on the most important story of the year so far, and that you are essentially advocating that NBC suppress it?
HH: Yes, I am, and my answer is pretty plain. It’s consistent with my answer in the case of the New York Times and the L.A. Times on the SWIFT money laundering, the money tracking. It’s the same with the surveillance of terrorists contacting their people. There are categories of information, very rare, very few, and very deadly, that ought to be suppressed because of their harm to people. And I’m pretty narrow about this. One of those would be, for example, a pathogen, someone, a pathogen you could cook up in your backyard that could kill millions. I would want that suppressed, and I’d look for media to suppress themselves. If this kid, this killer had come on and said and by the way, you, too, can kill people if you do the following things, I’d suppress that, but not by the government. I just look for a standard inherent of decency that I don’t think is hard, John Podhoretz. I found this…even if they had waited a month and had put it on a password-protected site, and invited people to come see it if they really needed to see it, but then copyrighted it so that no one could…he gave them this. They owned it, as you discovered.
JP: Right, right.
HH: This did not have to happen, and tonight, In Yuba City, they’re looking for a methamphetamine guy who called his pastor to say he’s going to do something worse than Virginia Tech. And every psychiatrist I’ve heard, save one, has said this is a blueprint for other nutters to go become immortal. I just can’t get over how outrageous this is, and the blood that will be on Steve Capus’ hands when the next DVD arrives from the next crazed person. I don’t know if legally, liability will attach. I think there’s a case to be made for the intentional infliction of mental distress, but Eugene Volokh and other fine 1st Amendment scholars say no, you can’t do it. I’m not so sure. I think they’ve lost their way, and that’s what I hear in most people’s voices. What do you hear around the Post and around your friends at the Corner?
JP: Well, I mean, I think it is very difficult for a media organization, for a person in the media to say…in other words, we know in the case of the secret prisons, in the case of the SWIFT money laundering program, we know specifically what was going to happen if those things were revealed, you know, and that fair warning was given to the organizations, and they went ahead and did it anyway. The only exception I would make to what you said is the presumption that we know as a matter of fact that something bad is going to happen because NBC released this video information. I mean, if you take his own testimony, not testimony, but whatever it is that’s in that printed statement, he described the Columbine killers as martyrs. Well, I mean, that was eight years ago, and it’s conceivable that in some jumble in his own head, the Columbine killing and this and that and the other thing sort of jumbled in together. But I think it’s very hard in a distorted consciousness to imagine that we know that X is going to follow Y, that someone…I understand that psychiatrists tell you that people say they’re going to do stuff, but you know, that would be the one proviso.
HH: We’ll know when a DVD shows up at NBC next, but let me read you…one of the reasons I’m also suspicious, and you pointed this out, why cravenness is suspect here, is because they’re lying in their statements. Did you read their statement today? We did not rush…
JP: Well, first of all, of course they’re lying, because if what they had was a piece of news that simply had to emerge, then they would have released it on MSNBC at 4:00.
JP: You know, they wouldn’t have waited until 6:30 for the Nightly News. They waited for the Nightly News because the Nightly News and World News Tonight are in a ratings battle, and they thought they could get a leg up. And indeed, they did.
HH: And so, they rushed it to the first thing. And then, they also write in their statement…
JP: And then, they saved stuff for the Today show.
HH: Yup. And they write in their statement that…
JP: …in order to get people to watch the Today show in the morning.
HH: …authorities have acknowledged our appropriate handling of the matter in the context of discussing the timing. That’s deceptive. They want people who don’t know any better to think that the authorities approved of their release, and they didn’t.
HH: In fact, it’s just very deceitful and craven.
JP: Well, I just don’t think we know what the fallout of this is going to be at. For example, you asked about my paper. Well you know, 30 years ago this summer, you know, reporters at my paper got letters, as did reporters at the Daily News, from the Son of Sam killer, in the summer of 1977, and of course, those were published.
JP: Now was that an encouragement to him? I don’t think it was a question that they were going to be published. I don’t think…I think you could sort of make some kind of an argument that they shouldn’t have been, or maybe they couldn’t have been, but I mean, there’s no…the thing is if news organizations are handed information on stories of interest, with very rare exceptions, they’re going to go with it. The question is, in what manner do they go with it?
HH: Agreed, and I think this might be one of those very rare exceptions when you don’t go with it. That’s what we’re arguing for, not a massive shutdown. John Podhoretz, I look forward to reading whatever you wrote for the New York Post tomorrow, and thank you for making time tonight.
End of interview.