The other day a colleague related an aphorism he had picked up in conversation with someone who had been in Tony Blair’s inner circle during his time in government:
“The best way to bury bad news is to publish it on the front page of the Guardian, because then the Daily Mail won’t touch it.”
It sounds like something from an Armando Iannucci script, but I’m sure it’s true. It’s also perceptive, as the phone-hacking story demonstrated: for over a year the story was doggedly pursued by the Guardian while the rest of the UK Fourth Estate determinedly looked the other way.
And then I remembered one of Marshall McLuhan’s aphorisms:
“Only puny secrets need protection. Big discoveries are protected by public incredulity.”
Which of course brought to mind the case of John Edwards’s extramarital affair, news of which was first brought to the world by the National Inquirer, a journal of, er, highly-blemished reputation which admits to paying for information and other breaches of Best Practice as taught by US journalism schools. Because the story was broken by the Inquirer, mainstream media wouldn’t touch it at first.
So maybe the best contemporary advice for Cameron & Co when they want to bury bad news is to by-pass the Guardian and go straight to the Daily Star.
The leaking of a secret US government White Paper setting out the supposed ‘legal’ justification for killing US citizens abroad using drones has lifted a corner of the veil that occludes the policy of the Obama Administration in this area. David Cole has thoughtful piece about this in The New York Review of Books. Sample:
On Monday, NBC published a leaked Justice Department “white paper” laying out the Obama administration’s case for when the president, or indeed any “informed, high-level official” of the federal government, can authorize the secret killing of a US citizen without charges, a hearing, or a trial. The paper, which appears to summarize a still-classified internal memorandum drafted by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to authorize the targeted killing in September 2011 of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, provides more detail than has yet been made public about the administration’s controversial drone program.
Consistent with the positions taken in public speeches by former State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh, Attorney General Eric Holder, and White House counterterrorism advisor and CIA director-nominee John Brennan, the sixteen-page white paper argues that killing a US citizen with a drone and without trial is legal under domestic and international law, even if the individual is far from any battlefield, not a member of al-Qaeda, and not engaged in planning an imminent attack on the United States. To date, much of the concern about the administration’s drone program has stemmed from its largely secret character; unfortunately, the more we learn, the greater those concerns become.
Drone warfare is the coming thing, and it’s already a much bigger deal than most people realise. It’s more serious, in a way, than cyberwarfare. And yet it receives very little attention.