Carol Platt Liebau: Never Mind . . .

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Never Mind . . .

Remember the character Emily Litella on "Saturday Night Live" -- the one who would go on a long rant about something, receive one key piece of information, and then conclude by effectively telling viewers to disregard everything she had said previously?

That's essentially what New York Times ombudsman Byron Calame does today, as he revisits his past spirited defense of the Times' decision to publish details of a bank data surveillance program -- a great tool in the war on terror -- that was secret until the story ran. Calame writes:

I haven’t found any evidence in the intervening months that the surveillance program was illegal under United States laws. . . .

Also, there still haven’t been any abuses of private data linked to the program, which apparently has continued to function. That, plus the legality issue, has left me wondering what harm actually was avoided when The Times and two other newspapers disclosed the program.

That's, of course, what many of us were wondering at the time. And note that Calame doesn't bother to weigh the harm that the story might actually have caused for instructing terrorists in the details of the program.

Calame does deserve some credit for publicizing his change of heart. But the conclusion of the piece is remarkable. He may have been wrong, but the Bush Administration made him make the mistake, dontcha know, because of its "vicious criticism of The Times."

Always reassuring that even The Times' ombudsman knows where all the real blame really belongs.


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