Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security's crack gumshoes at Los Angeles' airport jailed six French TV journalists for more than a day; interrogated, body-searched and fingerprinted them; then forcibly repatriated them to Paris.
The six had planned to cover the huge annual video game exposition in Los Angeles, a trade show that received worldwide coverage.
This kind of bureaucratic overkill and ineptitude could redound against American reporters overseas, tarnishes our ideal of a free press and makes us look like idiots. Now we have eroded our moral ground to object to this sort of Third World treatment when it is inflicted on our own reporters abroad. Was no one with common sense on duty that day?
There is a growing body of anecdotal evidence of people arbitrarily detained at airports or bumped off flights because of "watch lists." Getting a name removed apparently means going through a Kafkaesque nightmare.
Braced with this particular excess, according to Reason magazine's online service, the Department of Homeland Security and its manifold agencies stonewalled.
France is one of 27 countries whose nationals need no visas to enter the United States for 90 days for business or pleasure. It is a courtesy other countries extend to our own citizens, although who knows how much longer if this sort of nonsense keeps up.
Certainly, a trade show sounds like a legitimate mix of business and pleasure. But apparently there is an obscure and rarely invoked requirement for an "I-visa," which attests the holder is "legitimately engaged in journalism." The U.S. government should not be in the business of deciding who and who isn't a journalist, in effect licensing journalism. This was a common technique the old Iron Curtain countries used to try to control the press.
As long as they have a passport and obey the laws, let visitors write what they want. If the Department of Homeland Security had been around in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville might have been jailed, put on the next ship back to France and the epic "Democracy in America" would have never been written.
Sept. 11, 2001 did a lot of damage to our country, but at some stage we have to start undoing the damage we're doing to ourselves.