Bad journalism is an epidemic in our society. Nearly every news outlet – from CNN to the New York Times, Fox News to MSNBC – is guilty of it.
A poorly done story doesn’t just have consequences for the journalist. It also hurts the real human beings who are the story’s subjects. The latest victim of this corrupt practice is none other than our former congressman, the Honorable Howard “Buck” McKeon.
McKeon’s lobbying firm, the McKeon Group, recently entered into a subcontracting agreement with the government of Saudi Arabia. Per terms of the deal, the firm would assist in amending a recently passed law, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.
This legislation allows victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts for their alleged involvement in the attacks. Predictably, the Saudis do not want this to happen.
The law is also bad for our government, however, as it is widely expected to lead to an increase in lawsuits against the United States.
Here’s why. For years, countries around the world have adhered to the policy of “sovereign immunity.” In layman’s terms, this refers to the practice of countries to not allow foreign nations to be sued in their domestic courts. That means Germany cannot be sued in U.S. Courts, for example, and the U.S. cannot be sued in German courts.
With this legislation, the United States breaks from this practice. We have created an exemption to sovereign immunity and now allow for lawsuits against Saudi Arabia and any nation suspected of aiding terrorist attacks that killed Americans on home soil.
Experts predict, in retaliation, countries around the world will create their own exemptions, allowing for lawsuits against the United States.
Foreign governments may allow for suits when U.S. ambassadors engage in controversial missions abroad, when our military commits an operational mistake, or when our intelligence agencies capture a terrorist suspect.
The possibilities are endless. For a country as internationally involved as the United States, the consequences will be great.
“The principle of sovereign immunity protects U.S. officials every day, and is rooted in reciprocity. If we fail to uphold this standard for other countries, we place our own nation’s officials in danger,” said CIA Director John Brennan in a statement.
So McKeon, by assisting in amending this law for the Saudis, is also advancing the national security interests of the United States.
When the subcontracting agreement between the McKeon group and Saudi Arabia was reported, however, the press painted a far different picture.
Articles with titles like “Former Rep. Howard McKeon Sells Soul to Saudi Arabia as New Lobbyist” were grossly misleading. They made it seem like McKeon would be advocating for Saudi Arabian interests, even if they differed from those of the United States. Reporters described the congressman as a new “Saudi Lobbyist.”
This malicious framing is absolutely false. Howard D. McKeon, COO of the McKeon group, and the congressman’s son, informed me that the firm only lobbies on issues that advance U.S. interests. It just so happens, he said, that Saudi Arabia wants assistance with a priority that is also critical for the U.S.
So, the truth of the matter is, Congressman McKeon is not a Saudi lobbyist. Rather, his firm is working with Saudi Arabia on issues of mutual concern for the United States.
That is a good deal different than lobbying for Saudi Arabian interests. What the McKeon group is doing is the sort of work done by American diplomats, the president, and lawmakers every day.
“We would never, under any circumstances, advocate a position that hurt the U.S.,” Howard D. McKeon said.
And so you have it. Congressman McKeon, continuing his work as a public servant, agreed to use his influence to help amend a bad law harmful to the United States. For doing so, he was unfairly maligned and painted as corrupt.
As a great author once said, no good deed goes unpunished.
Journalists at Newsweek and other online blogs knew the kind of story they had to write to get viewer’s eyeballs. “Powerful former Congressman uses influence to advance Saudi Arabian interests.” It’s a saucy narrative, like something straight out of “House of Cards.”
However, journalism is about telling the truth. What they wrote was a lie.
Congressman McKeon is working with the Saudis to amend a law that threatens our military officials, diplomats, and intelligence agents working abroad. This is a noble thing to do.
For not reporting this, these journalists misinform the public, misrepresent Buck McKeon, and threaten America’s security by not raising awareness about this dangerous legislation.
The moral of the story: Don’t believe everything you read. Much of the journalism published today is outwardly biased, and borders on slander. Figuring out the truth takes time and critical thinking.
But doing so is always necessary – or else people just trying to do the right thing, like Congressman McKeon, are unjustly harmed.