When a democracy functions properly, media revelations of executive branch misconduct typically result in an investigation by the legislative branch. Watergate epitomized this healthy dynamic — illegal acts exposed by the Washington Post prompted congressional hearings and ultimately prosecutions. In other words, checks and balances functioned properly, and the system both cleansed itself of wrongdoers and rejected the Nixonian notion that no matter what a president does, it is inherently legal.
So when "The New York Times" this week ran the headline "Senate Will Investigate National Security Leaks About Terrorism 'Kill List,'" it was a frightening sign that something has gone horribly wrong since the Woodward-and-Bernstein days.
Some background: Last week, the Times published an expose detailing how President Obama personally orders the execution of American citizens and foreigners that he labels "terrorists." According to the Times, this program deems "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants"; allows the president to be judge, jury and executioner; and operates wholly outside of the law. Indeed, the Times reports that the administration justifies such dictatorial power by insisting that the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process can now "be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch."
However, the memo laying out this utterly preposterous legal theory is secret — and, of course, hasn't been ratified by any court.
In terms of size, scope and long-term effects, this program makes the Watergate scandal look altogether quaint. You would therefore think that at minimum, even the most flaccid, rubber-stamp Congress might ask a few questions about the president's "kill list" and the dangerous precedents it sets.
But evidently, you would be wrong.
As the Times noted in that subsequent ...