Reflections on a House Divided

Feet to the Fire

This is not the time to "turn the page and go on to the next story." More than enough damage has been done already

"The New York Times reported the NSA eavesdropping authorized by President Bush's executive order and briefed to both congressional leaders and the judge in charge of the secret intelligence court required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) helped uncover al Qaeda plots to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge and attack British pubs and train stations." -- Connecting the dots

Its not as if they don't know the value of - at least some - of the classified material and programs they've decided to expose. So that element of the latest defence offered by New York Times' Executive Editor Bill Keller, along with the editors of several other publications , for the  latest such disclosures made by his paper, rings fairly hollow. In said editorial the editors went into detail on how they agonize, fret, check, double-check, etc. before deciding to print a story whose publication federal security officials have requested that they forgo. The troubles are, first, that - as the story on the NSA mentioned in the quotation above should make clear enough - they screw up much too often in making such decisions, and when they do the price can be much too high. Second, it just isn't their call. No one elected, appointed or anointed them to make judgments concerning life and death matters affecting their fellow citizens or the security of the country in general. They are entitled to have their opinions on such matters, and even to print them, but no one - certainly not the supreme court - has held them immune from prosecution for doing so.

And that last point above goes to the heart of the main argument offered by Mr Keller and his associates, i.e. that the Supreme Court, in the ruling that kept the government from preventing publication of classified information pertaining to the Vietnam War whist that conflict was still in progress - i.e. the "Pentagon Papers,"  provided a defence against government interference with the operation of the press during wartime. But, in fact, that decision did not even remotely indicate that once classified material was published - the government could not then go forward and prosecute the offending publishers and editors under the relevant federal statutes. And, on the contrary,  a majority of the justices involved in that case expressed the opinion that prosecutions of that kind were a live option in such cases.

For almost the first time since the beginning of the war there has been some real movement on this issue. The President has made his anger known, and some members of congress have called for criminal investigations. This is heartening, but, unless the pressure is kept up continually over time, there is little likelihood that anything will come of it. On the other hand, if those now expressing their outrage persist they will likely find that - as in The Wizard of Oz - there is little substance behind the "curtain" enfolding the main-stream media - besides smoke and noise. It is only dangerous if those it feeds on fail to fight back stubbornly and out loud.

This is not the time to "turn the page and go on to the next story." More than enough damage has been done already by the kind of arrogance that proclaims that "President Bush and other figures in his administration were given abundant opportunities to explain why they felt our information should not be published. We considered the evidence presented to us, agonized over it, delayed publication because of it. In the end, their case did not stand up to the evidence our reporters amassed, and we judged that the responsible course was to publish what we knew " -- Free to Press
he flaunting of both law and common sense in this way and of this magnitude makes us collectively look weak, stupid, and practically serves as an invitation to our enemies to "kick" us  hard and often.  Our serving men and women risk their lived for us every day. The least we can do is to try and cover their backs here at home.

And a demand for congressional investigation of these leaks and those who love them, would be a good step along the way towards doing that.

Media Resource Centre Action

Senator Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee
Support his call for an investigation into the damage inflicted by the NYT leak.

When Do We Publish a Secret?

Reminder to the N.Y. Times: We Are At War
House Passes Resolution Criticizing Media Leaks
Fit and Unfit to Print
Some Previous postings on related topics
Alice, Joseph, Oliver - Come Home - We Need You!

Pushing Back



(C) David Aronin 2006