So, the pulitzer- prizes were handed out yesterday. And among the usually careful and timid praise for reporting that actually conveys information, Charlie Savage of the Boston globe was awarded the prize for "national reporting". The subject of his investigative reporting was the issue on how Bush's signing statements were, contrary to Washington wisdom at the time, actually used to excuse lawbreaking in specifics. Such as when dealing with the issues of torture, domestic spying, approval for going to war, etc. And so establishing that it was not merely a political maneuver to navigate difficult criticism. Still, it is a curious prize, as the practice of issuing signing statements - in a "ceremonial" fashion, as one described it - had been well documented well ahead of this. I could mention Dan Froomkin, of niemanwatchdog.com and the now renamed "White House Watch" column at washingtonpost.com, who reckognized the significance of this story literally years ahead of the "mainstream". Numerous others also caught on, as it was indeed very few areas of the law Bush eventuall had not in one way or another claimed he had the right to ignore. Eventually ending up with such things as Gordon Meek's (NY Daily News) story on how Bush reserved the right to open mail without court- order earlier this year. Nevertheless, Savage's reporting in the Boston Globe in 2006 was momentous. In the way that it brought the issue to the headlines, when the general noise- machine ridiculed anyone mentioning the signing statements as conspiracy- freaks, wishing to portray Bush as an evil dictator, operating outside the law as a rule. And only inside the law whenever it would serve him politically, more than breaking it. Strangely, Howard Kurtz, of all people saw fit to quote Savage's comment after receiving the prize, on that he felt very lonely in the main- stream press when it came to this issue at the beginning. And thus, publishing the story at the time amounted to a courageous act, by both journalist and paper, as they defied the entrenched Washington Wisdom that Bush could, by definition, do no wrong. But what exactly is the problem with the signing statements. As has been repeatedly argued, all presidents have used signing statements. And therefore, it is argued, there is nothing special about Bush. Unfortunately, this ignores the actual content of the signing statements themselves. Many presidents have of course differed on the smaller details of a signed bill, on the implementation of it, etc. However, noone has until now, without it ending in a veto, suggested that they reserve the right to ignore the law, and implement it as they see fit, while still considering the law binding. Let's take a specific example. Bush signed, after much pompous bloviating, a bill on torture together with sen. McCain, that expressly made the alternative practices connected with the secretive services illegal to use for the general army. The Bush- administration then issued a set of signing statements, claiming that the president would nevertheless excercise his article 2 powers to decide whether certain unnamed provisions of the bill was necessary for the executive branch to follow. This only hours after the grand signing ceremony of the law that expressly forbade torture. Which, of course, got more coverage in the media than what followed. In other words, the signing statements signal the executive branch's will in general to dismiss newly signed laws, as well as carry out flatly illegal acts, while still claiming they are lawful. It's unknown why this administration chose this practice, of course. One theory is that they wanted to immunize themselves against what they see as political persecution from the left. Another is that certain figures in the administration had decided on a specific set of actions they genuinely believe is needed, but knew would never be recieved well by the american people. But what is certain is that it is built on a principle of governing that has a curious twist on democratic theory. It might be summarized as the following: that in a republic, or a representative democracy - the people vote for their leaders. Those leaders are then trusted with keeping the nation running, and should be allowed to do so without interference from opportunists and criticism. In other words, that the structure of government with three branches only has value as long as it can be used to legitimize, without constraint of law or process, the intentions of those who are elected leaders. But nevertheless - here is Boston Globe, praising itself for breaking new ground: ...Really, what a fabulous statement. To assert that covering what the White House does, in favour of what they say, amounts to prize- winning national reporting.