The letters to the editorial page of the Philadelphia Inquirer are on fire. People are writing in, overwhelmingly opposed to the newspaper’s hiring of John Yoo as a columnist, the former Justice Department lawyer who helped write what’s come to be known as the torture memo that claimed the treatment of prisoners amounted to torture only if it caused the same level of pain as “organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.” [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show here in Philadelphia. I went to the University of Pennsylvania graduation last night, where musician John Legend gave the commencement address. He told the graduating seniors — well, I’m paraphrasing here, but something like “You should learn how to tell the truth, not just say to your boss what others want to hear, ‘Yes, I can give you the mortgage with no money down,’ or, Yes, sir, I can write out an opinion that justifies torture.’”
Well, that goes to a controversy right here in Philadelphia. The editorial pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer are on fire. People are writing in overwhelmingly opposed to the newspaper’s hiring of John Yoo as a columnist. That’s right, John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who helped write what’s called the torture memo that claimed the treatment of prisoners amounted to torture only if it caused the same level of pain as, quote, “organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.”
Well, here’s just a sample of some of the letters that have been sent to the Philadelphia Inquirer. This one is from Lisa Ernst in Philadelphia. She writes, quote, “How in the world could John Yoo’s legal analysis of anything be informative? What next? An investment advice column by Bernie Madoff?”
Frank Thomas Armstrong writes in from Portland, Oregon, quote, “Perhaps Hannibal Lecter could dish out some recipes for the Food Section. Vlad the Impaler could provide ideas for staking out that special backyard garden. And John Wayne Gacy could answer questions ranging from child psychology and clown costuming to how to build a truly scary basement for Halloween!"
Adam Greenfield writes this from Helsinki, Finland, quote, “John Yoo seems increasingly likely to escape responsibility for his criminal actions. At least, then, let him be shunned by all honest citizens, and live in ignominy and shame for the rest of his days.”
But the Philadelphia Inquirer is defending its position to hire Yoo as a columnist. In the paper yesterday, editorial page editor Harold Jackson wrote a piece called "Why We Hired John Yoo."
Well, we’re joined on the phone now by Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, which shares a building with the Philadelphia Inquirer. Will is author of the blog Attytood. He was the first to write about the issue last week. His latest book is Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future.
We only have a minute, Will, but if you could talk about this controversy and your, well, “attytude” to it.
WILL BUNCH: Well, I think the hiring of John Yoo is ultimately offensive. And I think the reason why is, you know, nobody wants to muzzle John Yoo’s, you know, basic right of free speech. I mean, he’s free to self-publish a book or go on a street corner and defend what I think is kind of indefensible, which is torture. But what this about is, you know, whether a major metro newspaper like the Philadelphia Inquirer should be giving John Yoo a megaphone, whether — you know, I think a problem going back to the Bush’s first term is the media normalizing torture, that makes something like torture, which not only is illegal under a law that was signed by Ronald Reagan, among others, but, you know, is clearly immoral, to make this a kind of a one-hand-on-the-other-hand debate, like it’s something like mass transit funding or something like that. And it’s not.
You know, I think newspapers have a role to reflect the moral positions of their community. You know, nobody would argue giving a regular monthly column to somebody who advocated something like racial discrimination, for example, or something like — that would be so far out of the mainstream. And I think we need to put torture in that same category.
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, I’m looking at “Why We Hired John Yoo,” that piece by Harold Jackson, and he says, “The decision to publish Yoo monthly came at the suggestion of The Inquirer’s publisher, Brian Tierney, who cited Yoo’s mutual roots in Philadelphia as well as his legal scholarship. He’s a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.” Harold Jackson writes, “I had misgivings, but believed our readers would place the move in context with the paper’s clearly expressed criticism in numerous editorials of the Bush administration’s use of torture.” Your response, Will Bunch?
WILL BUNCH: Well, there was a lot there. I mean, I think Harold maybe should have gone with his initial misgivings on this one. You know, it’s not just that Yoo advocates a position that’s not moral; I mean, he’s also being accused now of being unethical. I mean, he’s under a cloud of an investigation by the Justice Department for — that basically is going to recommend that he be disbarred for his actions in advocating this torture policy for political purposes.
You know, Philadelphia is a city of four million people. John Yoo grew up here, but he doesn’t even live here now. And to think this is a voice that’s reflective of the community, you know, frankly, I think it’s an insult to true conservatives that the best voice they can get on the editorial page is somebody who’s famous for being a torture advocate.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much, Will Bunch, for being with us and wrapping up —-
WILL BUNCH: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: —- this broadcast from Philadelphia and New York. Will Bunch writes the Attytood blog at the Philadelphia Daily News.