The indictment of Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes is the story of the day–the New York Times ran two front page pieces on it on the day the announcement was made (5/27/99). And Milosevic’s indictment is an important story for the American media to cover. But isn’t it at least as important for the press to cover accusations that the U.S. president is conducting an illegal war? That story has gotten virtually no mention in the Times.
According to the War Powers Act of 1973, the president must “terminate any use of United States Armed Forces” within 60 days of the declaration of military action, unless he receives Congressional authorization to do otherwise. This period expired on May 25. Three days into what seems to be a clear violation of the law, the New York Times, considered to be “the paper of record,” has not said a word about the expiration of the War Powers Act’s deadline.
Prior to the expiration of the 60 days, the Times‘ coverage of the issue was skimpy. One piece (4/29/99) obliquely touched on the issue, reporting that though Clinton promised to seek Congressional support for sending in ground troops, he would not seek Congressional approval, since, as his spokesman, Joe Lockhart, said, “such a step would raise a host of constitutional questions.” Another article, titled “NATO Says New Bombing Is the Strongest Effort Yet,” mentions in passing the suit filed by Tom Campbell and 16 other representatives against Bill Clinton for violating the War Powers Act (5/1/99).
The only serious attention the Times gave to the issue was in a piece by Alison Mitchell called “Only Congress Can Declare War. Really. It’s True,” which ran in the “Week In Review” section (5/2/99). This article described the House’s voting down of a resolution in support of the air war, by a 213-213 vote, as “a philosophical muddle devoid of practical effect.” In fact, the losing vote is an important element in Campbell’s lawsuit, proof that Clinton does not have congressional approval for his military actions.
But since the 60-day deadline expired, the Times has not so much as mentioned the War Powers Act.
In notable contrast to the Times‘ silence, USA Today ran an editorial headlined “Again, Public Gets Bypassed” (5/25/99), which examined the history of the Act and concluded that the Clinton administration’s refusal to abide by it is “an exceedingly risky policy that ignores both the ugly lesson of Vietnam and the Founders’ warnings about the ease with which unconstrained kings spend lives.”
The War Powers Act, as USA Today noted, is designed to guarantee a fundamental democratic safeguard–that the people have a say, through their elected representatives, over whether or not the country goes to war. Clinton is the first president ever to violate the time limit provisions of the Act by keeping troops in combat without congressional authorization. Why isn’t this news “fit to print?”
Please ask the New York Times to seriously address the implications of President Clinton’s ongoing violation of the War Powers Act, and to cover the suit being brought against him by Tom Campbell and other representatives. You might also let USA Today know that you appreciate their coverage of the issue.
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