The ‘disgraceful’ New York Times

In an earlier comment, Houston Ball raised the issue of The New York Times’ publication of a story revealing a CIA-Treasury program that tracks millions of financial records in search of terrorist suspects.
“You could take a strong position supporting the NYT and their front-page story exposing the government’s secret Bank Record spying program trying to catch terrorists, thereby alienating even more of your readers who might feel such revelations are not as much “in the public interest” as in the interest of our enemies,” he wrote.
I truly don’t want to alienate readers. But I’ll admit I’m sympathetic to the Times, whose behavior the president of the United States has called “disgraceful.” I’m certainly glad I’m not making the decisions the editors and publisher there are making.
To many readers, the right decision may seem easy: don’t publish something that the president believes will endanger national security. But I would ask those readers to suspend cynicism toward the media for a moment and consider how difficult it might be for a newspaper to decide to not publish information it has, especially about a matter of public importance.
There are two reasons I can think of, off hand, that a newspaper might not publish. First, it might succumb to outside pressure and withhold information simply because the powers-that-be wanted it withheld. Second, it might disregard any outside influence but conclude, based on its own judgment, that withholding the information was the best thing for society.
I think most readers would agree that the first reason would be cowardly and unethical. The second reason might be ethical. But isn’t there also danger in a newspaper arrogantly assuming a we-know-what’s-best role? The Times and other papers are frequently criticized for slanting the news. What could be more manipulative than withholding a major story?
A critic may reply that the judgment of the president and the Pentagon should be respected and prevail. I would ask then if that standard should apply no matter who the president is, what party is in power or what information is being weighed? I would ask, too, if the standard should be extended beyond national newspapers. Should papers in state capitals place similar faith in the judgment of governors? Should local papers let their mayors make the call?
Newspapers are asked nearly every day to withhold publication of something, in the interest of privacy, security, even economic development. Often persuasive arguments are made. Sometimes newspapers comply, agreeing, for example, to withhold for a day or two news of an upcoming police sting. Perhaps the bank-records case in analogous. The most famous example of a newspaper sitting on a story involves the Times itself and atomic bomb project. But rarely do papers agree to withhold news indefinitely, and in this case there was evidence that the terrorists already were well aware that wire transfers were being monitored.
In the end, newspapers almost always decide to do what they are meant to do, and that is publish. Consider this: Would you really rather have The New York Times collaborating with the White House, administration after administration, deciding what to tell the American people and what to keep secret?
Here is The New York Times’ editors’ letter describing how the decision was reached. As I said, I’m glad it wasn’t a decision I had to make.

9 thoughts on “The ‘disgraceful’ New York Times

  1. steve H

    Why would ANYONE expect a left-leaning newspaper with left-leaning writers like this one to take ANY other stance than this one?

  2. LisaB

    What exactly IS the public interest in knowing how the NSA is tracking terrorist activities?
    Does that interest, if it exists, outweigh the public interest in the NSA obtaining information about terrorists to thwart attacks upon said public?
    There was nothing remotely illegal about this NSA program. The NYT even says so, buried deep in the last paragraphs of the story. So what exactly made this newsworthy in the first place?
    Freedom does not mean that you have the right to do as you please. With freedom comes the expectation that one will enjoy it responsibly, and do the right thing.
    And aren’t those who are defending the NYT in revealing NSA programs pretty much the same set of people who are demanding Karl Rove’s head on a platter because they believe he “leaked” the name of an already known non-covert CIA operative who was also already known by name and occupation as Joe Wilson’s wife?
    Ain’t that interesting …

  3. Laura

    Steve H- surely you can not mean Knoxnews is left leaning? Hello, it is in the buckle of the bible belt, I actually feel that at times they are more right leaning, but in the end I can see were they try to balance to the middle. Why is it every time someone disagrees with a paper/editorial/blog they call it left or right leaining? Try and look at the over all feeling for once, look at the entire paper, and not just for one day, but for a week or month, you can see the attempt at balance in most city papers.

  4. David

    Balance? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Read this paper pre-McElroy and post McElroy and you can’t help but noptice that the KNS is just the Daily Metro Pulse.
    How would you feel, o wise editor, if you KNEW, beyond a reasonable doubt, that your revelation of a “story” has caused the deaths of 3000 Americans? Not beyond the realm of possibility in this instance. “Loose lips sink ships” was not just a catchy motto, it was a necessary reminder. The NYT, and now, the KNS, seem to be saying that the story is paramount, never mind that someone might be killed because of it. “Collaboration” is not necessary, but common sense is. What is the public’s interest in knowing, for instance, the routes that the trucks carrying nuclear weapons or their components will be traveling? Or the source code for our encryption software for military computers? If the Times gets this information as a “story” does this justify publishing it? What we demand is common sense. Right now, that seems to be totally lacking in the editorial decisions of the NYT. Perhaps they just think that it is worth it to cost American lives if their headlong slide into obscurity could be quelled in some way?

  5. Jeff B.

    Well, David, how would YOU feel that, say, you were warned that a terrorist attack on the United States was imminent, and decided that it would be a good idea to go on a holiday? Why, you’d be the current President of the United States, wouldn’t you?
    So, where’s the common sense in that?

  6. Terry

    Anyone who moves money illicitly knows the transactions are going to be monitered. The first use of the Patriot act was to look at bank records. This “discraceful” business and espionage charges are just administration payback for the Times outing the governments illegal wiretapping. Oh, and it looks good to the conservative voting base.

  7. Tnmonster

    I sure do wish to thank old what his name for explaining the reasons the NY times printed this story to us dumb hillbillies here if Tennessee. I’m just not sure if the times remembered the twin towers were just up the street from this very newspaper and how they could be so outraged over the leak of a so called former CIA agent and it might put her life in danger, yet the lifes of everyone in NY city just didn’t seem to matter to them at all. This was about getting BUSH, you can bet if old CLINTON are they’re boy KERRY he had been elected and was doing the same thing to protect the people of this country nothing and I mean nothing would have been written!
    The people at this newspaper need to make that old popping sound and you’ll know what that sound is when you hear it! as you remove your heads from your butts!

  8. David

    Since, as usual, your site won’t allow me to comment in support of Greg Johnson’s article, although, after five tries, it DID count my “yes” vote, I’ll say it here: Just so you know, I’m ashamed that Harold Ford, Jr. is from Tennessee.

  9. Jack McElroy

    To David and others having problems posting comments to surveys:
    I’ve had the online staff check this problem repeatedly. It may be that the comments are being posted, just not immediately. I’ve learned that it can take up to 15 minutes for a comment to appear.
    The Greg Johnson column in question recevied many comments, as indicated below. I apologize for the hassle and hope you continue to participate in these online surveys. I think the comments make good reading and contribute to public dialog on community issues.
    Do you agree?
    Choice 2
    “The reason ticket sales are slow is the fact that they are $70+.”
    July 3, 2006, 11:07 AM
    Choice 1
    “Greg, you are absolutely right on.”
    June 30, 2006, 7:26 PM
    Choice 2
    “Greg, you and other like minded are useful idiot.”
    June 30, 2006, 6:13 PM
    Choice 2
    “If you could open your mind to believe something other than RNC talking points you could never write a column like this.”
    June 30, 2006, 5:30 PM
    Choice 2
    “your topics are so irrelevant”
    June 30, 2006, 4:40 PM
    Choice 1
    “Treason, aid and comfort are such strong words too thrown around by the Right.”
    June 30, 2006, 3:47 PM
    Choice 2
    “Continue your long march into oblivion, Greg….your wish for an American Reich is being exposed for what it is: lies.”
    June 30, 2006, 12:34 PM
    Choice 2
    “Why so much hate in your heart and why spread hate.”
    June 30, 2006, 11:47 AM
    Choice 2
    “And what about John Duncan and his lucid, principled stand against the “war”? Should he not feel “at home” here too?”
    June 30, 2006, 10:46 AM
    Choice 1
    “Hey, Chicks and Kerry. Can you spell TREASON????”
    June 30, 2006, 10:10 AM
    Choice 2
    “Both the Pres and the Pentagon are setting their timelines. You missed the memo.”
    June 30, 2006, 9:53 AM
    Choice 2
    “freedom of speach right mister news paper man?”
    June 30, 2006, 9:36 AM
    Choice 2
    “Reagan is turning over in his grave.”
    June 30, 2006, 8:59 AM
    Choice 1
    “Idiot America speaks! Dixie Chicks for president!”
    June 30, 2006, 8:55 AM
    Choice 2
    “Nothing in Iraq is worth 1 american life.”
    June 30, 2006, 8:53 AM
    Choice 2
    “Uh,Greg, you failed to mention the Prez support numbers. Gee, I wonder why.”
    June 30, 2006, 8:52 AM
    Choice 1
    “Right on and perfectly correct.”
    June 30, 2006, 8:28 AM
    Choice 2
    “ABSOLUTELY NO!!! Why are you so anti-American?!”
    June 30, 2006, 8:25 AM
    Choice 1
    “Ignore the posters from 7:39 and 7:11 Greg, they are seditionist cowards who harm this country more that al-queerda ever did.”
    June 30, 2006, 8:17 AM
    Choice 2
    “I ususally agree with you. Not this time.”
    June 30, 2006, 8:01 AM
    Choice 2
    “A poorly written and factually incorrect column-the majority of Americans think the war was a mistake and has been poorly managed.”
    June 30, 2006, 7:39 AM
    Choice 1
    “Maybe they can do a show for Ford Jr. or Bob Corker.”
    June 30, 2006, 7:28 AM
    Choice 2
    “The enemy of my United States is you, Greg. This war was wrong from the start and you are an enabler.”
    June 30, 2006, 7:11 AM
    Choice 1
    “Very good column. God forbid Tenn. elect Ford he is part of the corrupt Memphis crime family, and a phony with a capitol P”
    June 30, 2006, 7:08 AM

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