Carol Platt Liebau: At Once Too Little and Too Much

Sunday, June 25, 2006

At Once Too Little and Too Much

Here is the letter that The New York Times' managing editor, Bill Keller, has sent to the no-doubt numerous readers who have written to protest the Times' decision to run the story telling terrorists about government surveillance of international financial transactions.

Keller discloses at once too little and too much. For example, he insists that "We spoke to others — national security experts not serving in the Administration — for their counsel." Wouldn't it be interesting to know who they were -- and what they advised? Keller never tells us.

On The Hugh Hewitt Show last Friday, however, the Beltway Boys asserted that even John Murtha had asked the paper not to go forward. Without more, that fact suggests that Keller's assertion may be deliberately disingenuous, insofar as it leads the reader to believe that the non-Administration officials approved the running of the story.

As for disclosing too much, Keller actually notes that

we cited considerable evidence that the program helps catch and prosecute financers of terror, and we have not identified any serious abuses of privacy so far. A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it.

If that's the case, then, how, exactly, is it dispositively in the public interest for an effective, secret program to be disclosed?

Keller continues

That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don't know about it.

Yes, better to preempt the President of the United States, vested with the power of Commander in Chief by Article II of the Constitution, and substitute some untrained journalists' judgment for that of the duly elected executive and his national security team during wartime.

By the Times' logic, no information about ongoing programs -- or even war plans -- would ever be secure from disclosure, because by the Times' lights, "ultimately the electorate" has the right to "know about" everything, and not just after the clear and present danger has passed, when evaluation and consideration may be appropriate.

Let's all hope that the Times doesn't find out about any present-day analogue to Josephine Baker or the dog doo transmitters of World War II. Because under the express (non-)logic of its managing editor, it would presumably be preempting the role of legislators, courts and the electorate not to breathlessly disclose the spy and the device ASAP, whatever the jepordy to the forces of freedom.

Finally, never believe, despite all Keller's ringing words, that The Times has been in any way "courageous" by running this story. The predictable lionizing (exemplified by this entry on the Columbia Journalism Review) is just one more breach in the now virtually nonexistent "bond of trust" between the American people and the MSM.

It is, above all, a sad and ugly abuse of the First Amendment.


Blogger Duke-Stir said...

"just one more breach in the now virtually nonexistent "bond of trust" between the American people and the MSM."

Dear Carol,

When the lying, secretive, Constitution-defying president decides to include the other branches of government in "our protection" -- indeed, when he shows something more closely resembling COOPERATION and INCLUSION and not his current contempt for them (remember Dubai Ports World?) -- then maybe the New York Times and others can stand down and rest easier with the knowledge that these decisions are being made collectively and in everyone's best interests.

The bond of trust between the president and his people was severed earlier and more brutally than anything that has occurred between the media and the people.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Duke-Stir said...

And Jessica, I really am hoping for an answer to my question for you down at the Happiness thread...

8:36 PM  
Blogger wile e coyote said...


The President's being a lying SOB does not give the NY Times license to do whatever it wants, either legally or ethically.

You are letting your dislike of W cloud the fact that others out there might also be scoundrels.

Carol, the situation the newspapers and their editors are facing is not novel. You were a newspaper editor. Aren't there any professional ethical guidelines for working through situtations like the present one?

8:59 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

Given the entire secret spying, wiretapping, sneak & peeks, medical, library, financial, and voter registry searches, where is Bin Laden and where are the terrorists that have been captured indicted and found guilty?

Bush and his administration endlessly lie to us. They lied about the reasons for going to war with Iraq and they fixed (sexed up) the intelligence to fit the policy. According to the Boston Globe, the unitary executive has broken 750 laws. The GOP senators have been rubber-stamping anything Bush or his cronies want, providing no check & balances.

Deservingly so, few Americans trust Bush with his emptying of the treasury to profit his cronies. Cutting and Running from the war with Al Qaeda to pursue oil riches in Iraq.

Thank goodness, the fourth estate hasn’t been completely destroyed with big global corporate ownership. Just maybe they will hold these lairs and crooks in check because the republican controlled House won’t and no one knows if the judges will.

9:43 PM  
Blogger wile e coyote said...


Who do you think owns the NY Times and other prominent members of the Fourth Estate?

Big global corporate ownership, that's who.

So, what do you propose we do when the fourth estate is filled with liars and crooks?


6:32 AM  

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