Dean Baquet and Bill Keller have published their latest attempt to explain their disclosure of classified information.
We have correspondents today alongside troops on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others risk their lives in a quest to understand the terrorist threat; Daniel Pearl of The Wall Street Journal was murdered on such a mission. We, and the people who work for us, are not neutral in the struggle against terrorism.
But the virulent hatred espoused by terrorists, judging by their literature, is directed not just against our people and our buildings. It is also aimed at our values, at our freedoms and at our faith in the self-government of an informed electorate. If the freedom of the press makes some Americans uneasy, it is anathema to the ideologists of terror.
Our job, especially in times like these, is to bring our readers information that will enable them to judge how well their elected leaders are fighting on their behalf, and at what price.
In recent years our papers have brought you a great deal of information the White House never intended for you to know — classified secrets about the questionable intelligence that led the country to war in Iraq, about the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, about the transfer of suspects to countries that are not squeamish about using torture, about eavesdropping without warrants.
As Robert G. Kaiser, associate editor of The Washington Post, asked recently in the pages of that newspaper: “You may have been shocked by these revelations, or not at all disturbed by them, but would you have preferred not to know them at all? If a war is being waged in America’s name, shouldn’t Americans understand how it is being waged?”
Government officials, understandably, want it both ways. They want us to protect their secrets, and they want us to trumpet their successes. A few days ago, Treasury Secretary John Snow said he was scandalized by our decision to report on the bank-monitoring program. But in September 2003 the same Secretary Snow invited a group of reporters from our papers, The Wall Street Journal and others to travel with him and his aides on a military aircraft for a six-day tour to show off the department’s efforts to track terrorist financing. The secretary’s team discussed many sensitive details of their monitoring efforts, hoping they would appear in print and demonstrate the administration’s relentlessness against the terrorist threat.
How do we, as editors, reconcile the obligation to inform with the instinct to protect?
Sometimes the judgments are easy. Our reporters in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, take great care not to divulge operational intelligence in their news reports, knowing that in this wired age it could be seen and used by insurgents.
Often the judgments are painfully hard. In those cases, we cool our competitive jets and begin an intensive deliberative process.There is a lot I could respond to in the excerpt above and even more in the full editorial, but I will just address the following for now: “Our job, especially in times like these, is to bring our readers information that will enable them to judge how well their elected leaders are fighting on their behalf, and at what price.” If it were true that the NYT had been doing their job, and bringing their readers unbiased, balanced and comprehensive information to enable them to make intelligent decisions, then I doubt there would have been as great an uproar (and questioning of their motivation) over the most recent disclosures of classified material. Instead, the NYT, and many other mainstream media outlets, have often treated the Bush administration as a greater threat to America than that posed by jihadist terrorists. If the history of the NYT’s coverage of the war in Iraq and the War on Terror was not what it was and if their past coverage of this President had not been what it has been, their latest statement might be more believable.
Update: Blue Crab Boulevard senses nervousness over backlash and provides additional analysis and links, including one to Ann Althouse, who seems to agree with my analysis above by asking of the NYT, “why should we trust you?”
MacRanger has some excellent (and entertaining) analysis including this:
Yawwwn….do these guy’s lawyers know that they are refusing their right to “remain silent”.
Want it both ways. Well guys, if Secretary Snow showed you guys around the program in 2003, then why all the “secret reporting” here in 2006? How then could this be – as you call it – “news”? You’re assertion that Snow “hoped it would appear in print”, is a blatent lie as I know and have talked with someone on that “team”, and you were asked not to devulge it, and you agreed and now – and only now – prior the 2006 midterms and especially when the tide (politically) for Bush as turned to the positive, you publish it.
This wasn’t a “gut wrenching decision”, it was a calculated move – one of many stories which both of your declining newspapers have written over the last few years – that were designed from the ground up to extract political damage on the White House. Nothing more, nothing less.Update II:I really should have included the L.A. Times in the title to this post, since editors of both actually authored the statement, but since this is just the latest in a series of statements we have been covering from Keller at the NYT, I focused my post more narrowly than I probably should have, at least in the title name.
Update III: Sister Toldjah boils the statement down to a one line quetion and a one line answer.