When Matsushita purchased MCA/Universal Studios in 1990, many worried that the Japanese business would distort, censor, or otherwise direct creative content at the giant movie and entertainment house towards politically safe — rather than provocative and edgy — material.
A journalist asked the Chairman of Matsushita Electric, Masaharu Matsushita, at the first press briefing focused on the entertainment studio acquisition whether Matsushita would play any role in content supervision at MCA/Universal. Masaharu Matsushita said that his firm would not meddle in creative affairs and wanted MCA/Universal to continue to create appealing films and music for a global audience. When the journalist followed up and asked “Would Matsushita allow ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’ to be made today?” the Chairman responded by saying “Why would anyone want to make that film today?”
A shiver went through the room — and it reverberated through the creative community at MCA/Universal.
The same sort of issue exists when branches of government or bureaucracies think that they have specified powers.
One should assume that specified legal authorities will be used in their broadest sense. One would be naive to ‘hope’ that concern for the public good will generally prevail in complex government organizations.
This tension between public interest and government power is apparent in the news today that the FBI abused Patriot Act authorities. I agree with Senator Russ Feingold, who is on the
Senate Judiciary Committee panel that oversees the FBI and said that a new Justice Department Inspector General report on the FBI “proves that ‘trust us’ doesn’t cut it.”
Lara Jakes Jordan of AP reports:
The FBI improperly and, in some cases, illegally used the USA Patriot Act to secretly obtain personal information about people in the United States, a Justice Department audit concluded Friday.
And for three years the FBI underreported to Congress how often it forced businesses to turn over the customer data, the audit found.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said he was to blame for not putting more safeguards into place.
“I am to be held accountable,” Mueller said. He told reporters he would correct the problems and did not plan to resign.
“The inspector general went and did the audit that I should have put in place many years ago,” Mueller said.
The audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found that FBI agents sometimes demanded personal data on individuals without proper authorization. The 126-page audit also found the FBI improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances.
The audit blames agent error and shoddy record-keeping for the bulk of the problems and did not find any indication of criminal misconduct.
The only way our form of democracy works is to realize that the President wants to be King, that Members of Congress want to be re-elected and derive power from keeping the King in check, and that the Judiciary has ultimate authority in most cases to resolve disputes between branches of government and contending political interests. The aspirant King and the wannabe rulers in the Congress both have input into the membership of the Judiciary.
The system works with all parties vigorously pursuing their interests. We should always worry that a Matsushita would pull the plug on “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and plan accordingly.
We should also expect that the Patriot Act would be misused, misapplied, and distorted beyond the intention Congress and the White House had for it.
Getting rid of Tom DeLay was an important part of correcting some of the worsening structural corruption in Washington (though i hear from the Wall Street Journal‘s John Fund he is about to become a CNN commentator), but there is much more work that needs to be done to get the American political order off the edge of “losing its character as a republic.”
— Steve Clemons
Update: Someone close to me tells me that the Matsushita-MCA example doesn’t work very well.
Perhaps not, but Glenn Greenwald has a terrific post here that deserves attention and looks at the abuse of Presidential powers that led to what the FBI was doing.
— Steve Clemons