Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Isn't it ironic, don't ya think?

The Mainichi Shimbun has printed every scurilous rumor and moronic innuendo leaked by the Tokyo Prosecutor's Office in the Livedoor affair. On February 10th, however, the paper celebrated the "vindication" of one of its reporters who had been subject to prosecutorial abuse in the 1970s.

In a front page article and longer article on the inside pages, the February 10 morning Mainichi Shimbun trumpeted its scoring of a journalistic coup: an 86 year-old former MOFA American Affairs Division chief had confirmed that a $4 million payment for farmland restoration in 1971 had been included in a $320 million budget for restoration and remediation costs associated with the return of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty.

I know, the revelation sent shivers up my spine too.

In early 1972, Nishiyama Takichi, a Mainichi Shimbun reporter, got his hands on documentary proof of a open secret: the U.S. government was refusing to pay the full restoration costs associated with the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty. The amount under dispute was trivial--$4 million for the restoration of agricultural land--but the U.S. Congress balked at appropriating money for the improvement of land the U.S. was giving away, particularly since that land had been seized in a war at a considerable cost in terms of blood and treasure.

In order to prevent the unraveling of the pacts guaranteeing the reversion of Okinawa to Japan, the Japanese government agreed to pick up the tab for the restoration, hiding the costs inside its own $320 million contribution to restoration and remediation. Mid-level officials sealed the deal in a series of side letters appended to the main Okinawa Henkan agreement.

Because they violated the terms of the official agreement, these side letters were kept secret. Technically, they did not exist.

Now Nishiyama acquired copies of these side letters from a young female official inside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He then leaked the contents to the then Socialist Party Diet member Yokomichi Takahiro. Yokomichi confronted the government with the information contained in the side letters in parliamentary session in March 1972. Within days, Nishiyama and the female government official were arrested for violations of the secrecy provisions of the National Civil Service Law.

Now since the contents of the letters had been discussed in the Diet and the pair had been arrested for revealing their contents, one would expect that the government would, in shame, admit that it had misled the Japanese people.

One would be wrong.

According to the government, the side letters still did not exist.

The ever helpful public prosecutors office not only arrested the pair on the charges of revealing secrets that did not exist, they spiced up the arrest warrants with the claim that the reporter had invited the official to a hotel where he "showed her sympathy" and that this "demonstration of sympathy" played a part in her willingness to pass the secret information on to him.

A huge public outcry broke out over the sleazy, unethical tactics of...yes, that's right, the Mainichi Shimbun--for stooping to employing adultery as a means of acquiring news.

The female MOFA official admitted guilt and accepted a six month suspended sentence. Nishiyama pleaded not guilty, arguing that it was impossible for him to have conspired with an official to reveal secrets if those secrets did not exist. He was nevertheless convicted and given a four month suspended sentence.

Nishiyama and his lawyers fought the decision all the way to the Supreme Court. Despite the whopping logical impossibility of it all, the Supreme Court confirmed the decisions of lower courts, finding that the existence or non-existence of the secrets was irrelevant to the legal issue of whether or not the secrets had, indeed, been divulged.

Japanese reporters found copies of the side letters in the U.S. National Archives in 2000. This triggered an "investigation" of the incident by Foreign Minister Yohei Kono. Fortuitously, Kono's exhaustive investigation, including an interview with Yoshino Bunroku, the American Affairs Bureau chief during the period in question, "proved" that the letters did not exist.

When more U.S. National Archives material regarding the side letters became available in 2002, Foreign Minister Kawaguchi Yoriko reiterated the government's assertion that the letters did not because, well, her predecessor Yohei Kono's "research" had demonstrated they did not exist.

On February 9th of this year, the aged and feeble Yoshino confirmed to Mainichi Shimbun reporters that the $4 million had been included in the $320 million budget.

The next day, reporters asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Abe Shinzo about the Yoshino admission. Abe, perhaps a bit surprisingly, did not issue the standard government denial that the letters did not exist. All Abe was willing to admit was that according to what he had heard, the letters did not exist.

In April of 2005, Nishiyama filed a defamation suit, contending that the hints of adultery in the original indictment had injured his career as a journalist. Nishiyama also insists that the insinuation in the indictment had been a government ploy to turn attention away from the existence of the secret side letters.

Where did Nishiyama ever get that idea?

And where is the Mainichi Shimbun's sense of irony, since it has served as the Tokyo Public Prosecutor's Office's chief rumormonger in the Livedoor case?

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