The worst of Times

The New York Times has been caught bragging about “data mining” — the same process that they railed against the government doing, to the point where they bagged a Pulitzer for exposing the government doing the very same practice. But where the government was doing it for nefarious, underhanded reasons — protecting Americans from terrorist attacks — the Times was doing it for the most selfless, patriotic, and noble intentions: making money.

After all, they’ve been losing money hand over fist the past few years, and as this simply wouldn’t be “the land of the free and the home of the brave” without the Times, keeping them afloat is actually the highest form of patriotism around.

In all seriousness, as I was reading the story, I felt like I had not only read it before, but written about it. I was mistaken, though; the prior story was not about the Times and data mining, but the Times and attempting to unseal adoption records for purely political reasons.

I’m beginning to see a pattern emerge here, and it ain’t a pretty one. In the case of the shield laws, the Times wants reporters to be immune from the law governing every other citizen about obeying the legal demands of courts and other bodies empowered to compel testimony. In the case of data mining, they want to forbid the government access to a very powerful tool — the same tool that the Times wants to use on the very same people, in the name of its own profits. And in the case of the Roberts adoption, they wanted to go on a “fishing expedition” and open the sealed records — as it almost always the case in adoptions — and see if they could find any irregularities. They didn’t even bother to make up some allegations; they wanted to violate the privacy of Roberts’ two young children just to see if they could find something wrong.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that these three events all form a pattern: the Times wants to undermine our faith in the government and deny it access to all sorts of information and techniques, because those would be a threat to our freedom. At the same time, it wants to claim those very same powers for itself, in the name of protecting our freedom.

But where there is a level of accountability to government power, in the form of regular elections, there is no such check on the power of the Times. Its directors are answerable only to its stockholders, and even most of them are excluded from exerting any sort of check.

And if they get a shield law passed, then they will be even more insulated from any sort of reckoning for their misdeeds. Judith Miller might be the very last reporter to go to jail for refusing to cooperate with a federal investigation — and in her case, one that the Times had repeatedly called for and backed, as long as it didn’t lead towards them.

Thomas Jefferson once famously said that “if I had to choose between government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I would unhesitatingly choose the latter.” A noble sentiment from the Sage of Monticello, but I sincerely doubt that he would go along with giving a single newspaper — especially one so steeped in bias and fraud as the Times has become in recent years — powers far beyond that of the government.

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