My apology to Jeff Sessions

Published 12:38 pm Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dear Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III,

I am so sorry to have criticized you for not taking any press questions during your August visit to our city, Winston-Salem. Belatedly, I have come to realize you are an undercover brother of the press, as you subtly hinted at Georgetown University and before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

Bless your heart.

I won’t tell a soul about your undercover status.

Southern manners mean everything, as well you know as an Alabama native. My column criticizing you after your recent visit failed that standard. Please forgive my lapse. I didn’t realize then that we are really soul-mates.

Praising free speech at Georgetown last month, you invoked my beloved Martin King and his strong words against segregation. Critics might say they can’t remember you standing up for King’s radicalism back in the day, but hey, that’s just critics. Sad.

Look, political correctness and safe spaces on campuses and all the rest have run amok. We should appreciate our First Amendment rights, as you so eloquently said in your prepared remarks for Georgetown:

As you exercise these rights, realize how precious, how rare, and how fragile they are. In most societies throughout history and in so many that I have had the opportunity to visit, such rights do not exist. In these places, openly criticizing the government or expressing unorthodox opinions could land you in jail or worse. … The right to freely examine the moral and the immoral, the prudent and the foolish, the practical and the inefficient, and the right to argue for their merits or demerits remain indispensable for a healthy republic. This has been known since the beginning of our nation … And let me be clear that protecting free speech does not mean condoning violence like we saw recently in Charlottesville. Indeed, I call upon universities to stand up against those who would silence free expression by violence or other means on their campuses.

Right on, my brother!

And when you testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, you so sagely played it cool on free speech, lest you’d out yourself as a brother of the press and bring down your dear leader’s ire for consorting with, as he called us, “the enemy of the American people.”

But some of us ink-stained wretches know you’re a fellow traveler. You’re a sly one. And you held your own before your former Senate colleagues.

That mean and nerdy lawyer lady, that Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, pressed you Wednesday. She wanted to know whether you would jail reporters in hunting those leakers for your boss. But, boy oh boy, you were coy as any Roy, as even The Washington Post reported on your words:

Well, I don’t know that I can make a blanket commitment to that effect. But I would say this: We have not taken any aggressive action against the media at this point. But we have matters that involve the most serious national security issues, that put our country at risk, and we will utilize the authorities that we have, legally and constitutionally, if we have to.

Some critics, of course, didn’t get your testimony, including that failed comedian and Harvard honors graduate, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota (what is about that state?) And that pesky Alliance for Justice claimed you evaded questions “on the Russia investigation, voting rights, President Trump’s travel ban, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the firing of James Comey, freedom of the press, and LGBTQ discrimination.

They just did not get it.

But I, for one, caught your meaning when you said: “Maybe we — we always try to find an alternative way, as you probably know, Sen. Klobuchar, to directly confronting a media person. But that’s not a total, blanket protection.”

This media person understands, Mr. Sessions, and I won’t hog the blanket on this matter.

If you have to press a judge to jail me for refusing to identify you as my source on this column, I will gladly go, knowing jailing journalists is part of your undercover plan, your quiet revolution. If allowed, I will proudly paste your photo on my cell wall. I will tell my fellow prisoners that our greatest presidents — Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon — would have been as proud to have you as our nation’s top lawyer as our current president is.

Don’t worry about all that bullying President Trump is giving you. That’s just his way of saying he loves you. Just as your supposed bullying on free speech is your way of saying you love us newspapermen. You sneaky devil, you! I know you’re just trying to get a few of us sent to jail, hoping the controversy will have a boomerang effect, getting your boss off your back on this leaker crackdown.

Brilliant plan on your part, sir.

Yours in justice.

And never injustice.


JOHN RAILEY,  who grew up in Courtland, is the editorial page editor of The Winston-Salem Journal, which published this column.