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Friday, June 09, 2006

Media Failed Its Duty in Lee Case - by Robert Scheer

Five media giants joined the U.S. government last week in paying maligned Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee $1.6 million while once again denying any serious culpability in his totally unjustified and extremely harsh incarceration. Hiding behind their “bond” with government sources, the media companies continue to protect officials who broke the law in leaking highly classified information to defame an individual, as they have more recently in the Valerie Plame case.
 
In the now infamous racial profiling of Lee, the media was in cahoots with government leakers, who were bizarrely determined to prove that Lee was a dangerous spy whose freedom would profoundly jeopardize national security. Amid this manufactured hysteria, a frail, middle-aged Lee was forced to spend nine months in solitary confinement—chained even in meetings with his attorneys, and under 24-hour video surveillance, during his every private moment --because the government claimed that if he were released on bond the lives of “hundreds of millions of Americans” would be endangered.
 
That lurid claim was made possible by a public atmosphere poisoned by shoddy reporting — particularly that of The New York Times, which splashed this headline across its front page: “Breach at Los Alamos: A special report; China Stole Nuclear Secrets for Bombs, U.S. Aides Say.” The story claimed that “Working with nuclear secrets stolen from an American government laboratory, China has made a leap in the development of nuclear weapons: the miniaturization of its bombs, according to administration officials.”
 
Those officials were lying to the Times then as they were days later when Lee was named as the culprit in the case. Lee was never charged with spying for China or any other government, and 58 of the 59 charges against him were dropped when the Clinton Justice Department eventually settled for time served on one minor charge of improperly handling classified information. While the Times and the other news organizations that uncritically conveyed the “administration officials” falsehoods failed to apologize to Lee, the Reagan-appointed judge who heard the government’s pathetic case had the decency to do just that.
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