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NYT: The editorial side speaks
Posted by: McQ on Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Noting that there is a large wall between the news gathering and reporting side of the house and the opinion side of the house at the NY Times, and wrapping itself in "patriotism", the editorial side gives its opinion of the SWIFT controversy. Two paragraphs that caught my eye:
Our news colleagues work under the assumption that they should let the people know anything important that the reporters learn, unless there is some grave and overriding reason for withholding the information. They try hard not to base those decisions on political calculations, like whether a story would help or hurt the administration. It is certainly unlikely that anyone who wanted to hurt the Bush administration politically would try to do so by writing about the government's extensive efforts to make it difficult for terrorists to wire large sums of money.

From our side of the news-opinion wall, the Swift story looks like part of an alarming pattern. Ever since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has taken the necessity of heightened vigilance against terrorism and turned it into a rationale for an extraordinarily powerful executive branch, exempt from the normal checks and balances of our system of government. It has created powerful new tools of surveillance and refused, almost as a matter of principle, to use normal procedures that would acknowledge that either Congress or the courts have an oversight role.
The "we just publish what we think the people would find important" meme is rather trite, don't you think? Especially when you read the disclaimer included in paragraph one which says they "try hard not to base those decisions on political calculations, like whether a story would help or hurt the administration", and then turn around in the next paragraph and all but say "but these guys deserve it". They deserve it, apparently, because the administration has become too powerful in the eyes of the Times.

Fine. But to pretend this has nothing to do with politics or the executive branch's power is insulting. The editorial notes that the Times withheld the wiretapping story for a year while it weighed the administration's arguments. When it published it was acknowledged that at best the program dwelt in a very gray legal area.

Not so with this program. Arguments have been made that what the Times published really didn't break any new ground or give away any real secrets. That's like saying that we have a spy operation in Iran is akin to saying we have a spy named Mr. X in Tehran and he lives in a particular house on a particular street.

The fact that terrorists are aware that we're trying to chase down their financial transactions and trace them to the source doesn't mean it is prudent to divulge the particulars of how we're doing it and the means. They may suspect it. But we certainly aren't well served by announcing to them the particular means or system we use.

The Times goes on:
The Swift program, like the wiretapping program, has been under way for years with no restrictions except those that the executive branch chooses to impose on itself — or, in the case of Swift, that the banks themselves are able to demand. This seems to us very much the sort of thing the other branches of government, and the public, should be nervously aware of.
If there were illegal abuses of which the Times was aware or if this were simply an illegal program I would agree. But the statement from the Times would have one assume that the other branches of government weren't aware of this program and its particulars and that simply isn't true. Congress was aware of the program, and Congressmen from both sides of the isle (to include Rep. Murtha) argued against publication.

It is important to note that it wasn't just the executive branch or the Republicans who argued against publication as many would have you believe. And the rationalization the Times offers here is weak at best. It also shows that while government argued strenuously against publication, it did nothing to stop it. To me that says "freedom of the press" is alive and well, at least on one side of the equation.

But as dangerous as the Times sees the current administration, there are equally dangerous signs that the media may not be exercising its responsibilities to the public it claims to serve as judiciously as possible, or, perhaps overstepping its bounds. I was reminded of this by a post at Sweetness and Light where they noted a statement by Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of The Washington Post which frankly stunned me:

“We do not want to inadvertently threaten human life or legitimately harm national security in our reporting,” he said. “But it’s important . . . in our constitutional system that these final decisions be made by newspaper editors and not the government.”…

Really? Constitutional system? Tell me, under that Constitutional system, who elected them to make those decisions?
 
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McQ,

It seems to me the sentiment voiced by the WP editor is all too common. Until the gov’t decides to test this "power of the press" in a court of law I’m afraid we will be at the mercy of the press.

The leaks need to be found and prosecuted and the press should be held accountable by at least being forced to name their sources.
 
Written By: DCB
URL: http://
(with apologies to Christopher Lloyd) "I’ll catch the leaker, Mr. President. And I’ll try him, convict him, and execute him."
 
Written By: D
URL: http://
Lets see.....in the Constitution I see the executive branch, the legislative branch, the judicial branch........huh, my copy of the constitution is incomplete, I don’t see the media branch anywhere.
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
I do believe he means the First Amendment part of the Constitutional system, no? The one where certain decisions are reserved for the people, rather than the government?
 
Written By: Mithras
URL: http://mithrastheprophet.blogspot.com
I do believe he means the First Amendment part of the Constitutional system, no? The one where certain decisions are reserved for the people, rather than the government?
He probably should have said that then, Mithras. Instead he proclaimed the decision-making power lies with "newspaper editors":
"But it’s important . . . in our constitutional system that these final decisions be made by newspaper editors and not the government."
Not to mention the fact that freedom of the press/speech in no way empowers individuals (editors or otherwise) to cause harm to the Nation’s interests with impunity.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://
I do believe he means the First Amendment part of the Constitutional system, no? The one where certain decisions are reserved for the people, rather than the government?
Nope, he doesn’t mean that at all. He’s taking a position where unelected, unaccountable news editors are now elevated to a co-equal or superior status with the other branches.

As an aside, I also doubt that Leonard Downie Jr. or Bill Keller would take such an expansive view of the 1st Ammendment in regards to bloggers (or as they view them, the unwashed masses)- it’s all about turf you know.
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
At least the New York Times provides a rationale, however flawed it may be. The Wall Street Journal’s silence on this issue speaks volumes:
The Wall Street Journal had been working on the banking story for a long period of time but did not reach the point of having enough information to publish until Thursday afternoon, according to a staffer who declined to be identified because the newspaper is making no public comment. The Journal does not know why Treasury officials made no appeal against publication in that paper, but editors assume that by then the officials were resigned to the fact that the details were coming out, the staffer said.

Despite the stories that appeared in competing papers, the New York Times is still bearing the brunt of the criticism at the White House, on Capitol Hill and throughout the media world.
 
Written By: cllam
URL: http://
He probably should have said that then, Mithras. Instead he proclaimed the decision-making power lies with "newspaper editors":
I think he was talking about the decision whether to publish the story or not, but the ellipses make it hard to tell.
 
Written By: Ugh
URL: http://
Ever since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has taken the necessity of heightened vigilance against terrorism and turned it into a rationale for an extraordinarily powerful executive branch, exempt from the normal checks and balances of our system of government. It has created powerful new tools of surveillance and refused, almost as a matter of principle, to use normal procedures that would acknowledge that either Congress or the courts have an oversight role.
And with all those creative writers, they couldn’t publish a story that dealt with these issues, without divulging our methodology???
 
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
It has created powerful new tools of surveillance and refused, almost as a matter of principle, to use normal procedures that would acknowledge that either Congress or the courts have an oversight role
Such as? Because it seems to me that this program and the NSA program BOTH had congressional oversight.

Strawman argument erected by a paper that knows it stepped in it
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Can we impeach Keller now?
 
Written By: the wolf
URL: http://gabbleratchet.blogspot.com
Imperial President - meet Imperial Newsman.

 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Really? Constitutional system? Tell me, under that Constitutional system, who elected them to make those decisions?
Umm, ours, the first amendment.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

If the New York Times knows about something then we need to assume that the terrorists do to. All too often the "top secret" classification is used to hide incompetence and malfeasance. The only people kept in the dark when the NYT protects the administration is US.
 
Written By: cindyb
URL: http://
Umm, ours, the first amendment.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Please show me in there where it says the press is elected to make national security decisions. Or where it says the press cannot be prosecuted for breaking established law?

The press is not "more equal" than any individual citizen.
 
Written By: DCB
URL: http://
CindyB:

If we are to operate under a rule of law, the law must give someone the authority both to classify national security information and to declassify it.

In our country, the law has selected the President and the executive branch of our government to be that someone.

Neither the First Amendment, nor any other federal law empowers the New York Times as that someone, the last time I looked.

Have you found anything in the Constitution or in Federal Law that I might have missed?

Cordially,
VNJ
 
Written By: vnjagvet
URL: http://www.yargb.blogspot.com
"If the New York Times knows about something then we need to assume that the terrorists do to."

We do? BS statement #1.

"All too often the "top secret" classification is used to hide incompetence and malfeasance."

Really? How about 3 examples? BS statement #2.


 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
Now that I am actually getting a chance to read deeply into ths (too much work at the day job), it becomes more and more clear how much real damage was done by this disclosure. And it becomes very clear that the various leftie blogs (Greenwad included) are totally off base.

In an interview with Kean I saw this relevant quote:

Kean said that when he was briefed by the Treasury Department on the program, "I was told very few people knew about this facility," which provides transaction processing services for over 7,000 financial organizations located in 194 countries worldwide.
"I was told that very few financial houses in this country knew about it; it was not well known even by people in banking," Kean said. "The terrorists didn’t know the financial transactions went through this one group. Treasury told me, this was a method of financial tracking that people didn’t understand, that nobody knew this was how things were done. Top-notch people in the US didn’t even know."

"The second thing is that it took a long time to get this program set up. SWIFT is not US-controlled; we had to persuade them to cooperate, convince them that this was so important to the war on terrorism. It was a great coup when all these other countries agreed to go along."

So for even those terrorists who might know of SWIFT, "the idea of the U.S. and CIA having a tap into it is something people would find impossible to believe."
So contrary to the spin from the left:
- not a lot of people knew exactly how it worked —- but they do now
- it is not US controlled and took a lot of time to get the EU to cooperate — and now it is dead

So what was gained by this application of press freedom and was it worth the loss. I don’t think so.

Tom Maguire has a great post on this one

 
Written By: capt joe
URL: http://

 
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