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Watching the Watchers: The New York Times Responds

by RonChusid

The need to keep an eye on authority has been considered at least since Plato asked, “Who will watch the watchers?” The media has often been one party to fulfill that role, but let us down following the 9/11 attacks. The New York Times has more recently returned to reporting rather than passing on the lies of a corrupt administration. The authoritarian right, forgetting the historical distrust of conservatives for big government, has been attacking them. Today Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times has responded to criticism sent for their reporting on the government’s examination of international banking records. Normally I only include a portion of editorials from such newspapers, but under the circumstances I suspect they would not object to my repeating this response in its entity. Following is his response:

I don’t always have time to answer my mail as fully as etiquette demands, but our story about the government’s surveillance of international banking records has generated some questions and concerns that I take very seriously. As the editor responsible for the difficult decision to publish that story, I’d like to offer a personal response.

Some of the incoming mail quotes the angry words of conservative bloggers and TV or radio pundits who say that drawing attention to the government’s anti-terror measures is unpatriotic and dangerous. (I could ask, if that’s the case, why they are drawing so much attention to the story themselves by yelling about it on the airwaves and the Internet.) Some comes from readers who have considered the story in question and wonder whether publishing such material is wise. And some comes from readers who are grateful for the information and think it is valuable to have a public debate about the lengths to which our government has gone in combatting the threat of terror.

It’s an unusual and powerful thing, this freedom that our founders gave to the press. Who are the editors of The New York Times (or the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and other publications that also ran the banking story) to disregard the wishes of the President and his appointees? And yet the people who invented this country saw an aggressive, independent press as a protective measure against the abuse of power in a democracy, and an essential ingredient for self-government. They rejected the idea that it is wise, or patriotic, to always take the President at his word, or to surrender to the government important decisions about what to publish.

The power that has been given us is not something to be taken lightly. The responsibility of it weighs most heavily on us when an issue involves national security, and especially national security in times of war. I’ve only participated in a few such cases, but they are among the most agonizing decisions I’ve faced as an editor.

The press and the government generally start out from opposite corners in such cases. The government would like us to publish only the official line, and some of our elected leaders tend to view anything else as harmful to the national interest. For example, some members of the Administration have argued over the past three years that when our reporters describe sectarian violence and insurgency in Iraq, we risk demoralizing the nation and giving comfort to the enemy. Editors start from the premise that citizens can be entrusted with unpleasant and complicated news, and that the more they know the better they will be able to make their views known to their elected officials. Our default position — our job — is to publish information if we are convinced it is fair and accurate, and our biggest failures have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough or to report fully enough. After The Times played down its advance knowledge of the Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy reportedly said he wished we had published what we knew and perhaps prevented a fiasco. Some of the reporting in The Times and elsewhere prior to the war in Iraq was criticized for not being skeptical enough of the Administration’s claims about the Iraqi threat. The question we start with as journalists is not “why publish?” but “why would we withhold information of significance?” We have sometimes done so, holding stories or editing out details that could serve those hostile to the U.S. But we need a compelling reason to do so.

Forgive me, I know this is pretty elementary stuff — but it’s the kind of elementary context that sometimes gets lost in the heat of strong disagreements.

Since September 11, 2001, our government has launched broad and secret anti-terror monitoring programs without seeking authorizing legislation and without fully briefing the Congress. Most Americans seem to support extraordinary measures in defense against this extraordinary threat, but some officials who have been involved in these programs have spoken to the Times about their discomfort over the legality of the government’s actions and over the adequacy of oversight. We believe The Times and others in the press have served the public interest by accurately reporting on these programs so that the public can have an informed view of them.

Our decision to publish the story of the Administration’s penetration of the international banking system followed weeks of discussion between Administration officials and The Times, not only the reporters who wrote the story but senior editors, including me. We listened patiently and attentively. We discussed the matter extensively within the paper. We spoke to others — national security experts not serving in the Administration — for their counsel. It’s worth mentioning that the reporters and editors responsible for this story live in two places — New York and the Washington area — that are tragically established targets for terrorist violence. The question of preventing terror is not abstract to us.

The Administration case for holding the story had two parts, roughly speaking: first that the program is good — that it is legal, that there are safeguards against abuse of privacy, and that it has been valuable in deterring and prosecuting terrorists. And, second, that exposing this program would put its usefulness at risk.

It’s not our job to pass judgment on whether this program is legal or effective, but the story cites strong arguments from proponents that this is the case. While some experts familiar with the program have doubts about its legality, which has never been tested in the courts, and while some bank officials worry that a temporary program has taken on an air of permanence, 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. 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.

We weighed most heavily the Administration’s concern that describing this program would endanger it. The central argument we heard from officials at senior levels was that international bankers would stop cooperating, would resist, if this program saw the light of day. We don’t know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling. First, the bankers provide this information under the authority of a subpoena, which imposes a legal obligation. Second, if, as the Administration says, the program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it. The Bush Administration and America itself may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seems to have pretty strong support everywhere. And while it is too early to tell, the initial signs are that our article is not generating a banker backlash against the program.

By the way, we heard similar arguments against publishing last year’s reporting on the NSA eavesdropping program. We were told then that our article would mean the death of that program. We were told that telecommunications companies would — if the public knew what they were doing — withdraw their cooperation. To the best of my knowledge, that has not happened. While our coverage has led to much public debate and new congressional oversight, to the best of our knowledge the eavesdropping program continues to operate much as it did before. Members of Congress have proposed to amend the law to put the eavesdropping program on a firm legal footing. And the man who presided over it and defended it was handily confirmed for promotion as the head of the CIA.

A secondary argument against publishing the banking story was that publication would lead terrorists to change tactics. But that argument was made in a half-hearted way. It has been widely reported — indeed, trumpeted by the Treasury Department — that the U.S. makes every effort to track international financing of terror. Terror financiers know this, which is why they have already moved as much as they can to cruder methods. But they also continue to use the international banking system, because it is immeasurably more efficient than toting suitcases of cash.

I can appreciate that other conscientious people could have gone through the process I’ve outlined above and come to a different conclusion. But nobody should think that we made this decision casually, with any animus toward the current Administration, or without fully weighing the issues.

Thanks for writing.

Bill Keller

48 Responses to “Watching the Watchers: The New York Times Responds”

  1. Great. When does Bill Keller come up for re-election, and what to whom is he accountable?

  2. Tom Maguire

    We know you conservatives don’t get it – but the media is doing their job on this one.

  3. He’s accountable to his boss and the people who vote with their dollars.

    I think the Times and other papers are doing their jobs. Tracing the financing has been a key factor for Dick Clarke and John Kerry. It is part of the intelligence work that must be a part of this war. Because these two and the rest of the people who understand 4GW have talked and written plenty on this, not to mention trapped some terrorists with it, there shouldn’t be any delusions that they know what is going on.

    The disclosure makes me think two things,
    I’m glad they’ve been doing something in this area instead of ignoring and relying on military intervention.

    Compard to what Clarke, Kerry and others describe, it comes across as yet another example of Bush’s ham-fisted incompetence.

    Bush cannot get the amount of knowledge, planning and reasoning involved in fighting the war on terror with intelligence rather than just brute force.

    In the same way, he can’t figure out what is truly a national security issue. So this administration has gone into top secret mode.

    A good example of why the person in the oval office needs highly functioning gray cells.

  4. Bill Keller’s Letter To The Worried

    Because I do not advocate prosecuting the New York Times, I do expect newspapers to be highly responsible about what they publish: I grant them a lot of power, but this also means that they should be extremely responsible in what they do and don’t cov…

  5. Tom,

    Bill Keller doesn’t make laws which affect our lives as the government does.

    The results of Bill Keller’s actions at the New York Times are pretty much out in the open. You can see whatever is published in the Times if you choose. When the government acts in secrecy, more effort is needed to keep an eye on them.

  6. “You can see whatever is published in the Times if you choose.”

    Well, yes, that’s the problem. There’s a reason why intelligence programs are kept secret.

    I don’t need to know the details of this intelligence-gathering program. The NYTimes did not serve the public interest by publishing. They put their own judgement above that of the people who *the public* elected to make the decisions about national security.

  7. That’s the function of the media. You may not feel you need to know, but its not up to you to decide what information the public has.

  8. We keep hearing the nonsense about whatever the government does; it is done in the best interests of the country.
    While we would all like to believe this fairy tale, events have said not so.

    Torture was kept secret until torturers started showing pictures.

    The spying of innocent citizens by the NSA was a secret until the lapdog MSM actually broke the story.

    The spying on international money transfers was hidden until the MSM actually broke the story.

    Most of us on this blog totally distrust BushInc and are worried the information is used to punish those who oppose their policies; not just used to catch terrorists.

    Without checks and balances, it is easy for one side to punish those who are against it.

    The same folks who whine about security being compromised have no problem with Valerie Plame being outed by BushCo to punish her husband.
    Where is the outcry? If that doesn’t bother you then STFU about the press finially doing their job.

    As a rule of thumb, if going public hurts people then the story shouldn’t be published. In each instance, the press contacted the government prior to the release. BushInc could not give a valid reason so the report was published.

    I guess the far right wingnuts are so afraid of their own shadows they are willing to allow the government to commit crimes against US citizens so US citizens can have the false illusion they are safe.

    It is too bad these people have weaseled themselves into power. It is worse that they even breed others like them.

  9. The founding fathers expected the press to publish and to keep the three branches of government honest. There is plenty of historical material to support this.

    The problem (one of many) with the Bush administration is that its members, starting with the president, insist that oversight by a different branch of government, as envisioned in the Constitution, is unnecessary. They believe that they can make decisions themselves and that no one should be able to question them. They insist in courts that to provide proof supporting various actions, would reveal secrets.

    In fact, George W Bush has abrogated power. That’s an impeachable offense – unlike sleeping with someone outside one’s marriage.

  10. “BushInc could not give a valid reason so the report was published.”

    There is the arrogance of the left and their media pets in a nutshell: The President we elected didn’t beg humbly enough to satisfy the editors and reporters of the New York Times. Where are the checks and balances on Bill Keller?

  11. Fred,

    This is all part of the cost of living in a free society. Things you might not like are going to appear in the newspapers. Sometimes things will appear which shouldn’t, but the danger of allowing the government to act in secrecy is far worse.

    It is not question of the President begging. It is a case of being held accountable, which includes providing justification to keep things secret from those who did elect him. Bush was reelected largely due to deceiving the public, with the media not doing their job until he was in his second term. We are now much safer having the press back doing their job.

  12. The Times itself admitted that this program is legal; Congress was briefed on the program. There is nothing here to be “held accountable” for. There is just the NYTimes with an urge to publish intelligence leaks during wartime.

    If you think that blowing the cover off of sensitive intelligence secrets during a war makes us safer, you’re sadly mistaken.

    Bush is not the enemy.

  13. Fred,
    What names were hurt?
    They announced the government was doing this. There are no agents outed. Freedom means a certain amount of transparency.

    Freedom does not mean allowing the government to lie, cheat and steal without the public being aware of it.

    If people are being hurt, the press should be accountable and not print the story. Obviously, no one is at risk.

    If the government is trying to do something that affects the public without naming names then should the government be accountable?

    Transparency is a tough subject. When is it acceptable to hide and when is it a must to disclose.
    The question is if people can be hurt by disclosing the program.

    BTW…How do you feel about Valerie?

    Yes, Bush is the enemy.
    He is the enemy because he lied about going to war, has led the fight in this war totally incompetently, encourages spoiling the environment, put another generation into debt, guts social porgrams and thinks gays and abortions are the worst ills facing this country.
    Bush is the worst President in the history of our country and the evils from this administration will last us a long time.

    I hope your kids don’t have to breathe the air, drink the water, pay off the debt, fight in Iraq, Iran or North Korea or get sick because your fearless leader has made their lives a lot worse.

  14. Fred,
    Of course, you must be outraged over the naming of CIA agent Valerie Plame by Novack.

    Using your own logic, Novack and who ever fed him the news must be put in irons.

    After all, a real person was disclosed and an intellegence network destroyed.

    If you think the administration gets a free ride on Plame then you really don’t mean what you say about freedom and terrorism in this instance. You are just spouting Repub points.

  15. Could people be hurt by enabling a terrorist organization to avoid our surveillance? Sure they could. Yes, there are people at risk.

    The larger point is that it’s not Bill Keller’s call to make. He’s not the guy we elected to make that decision.

    Do you think that “Bush is the enemy” justifies going after the adminstration’s secrets like this, as opposed to, say, some other President?

  16. Fred,

    You are thinking too short term. Freedom of the press, and a news media which monitors the actions of government, is important to preserve our liberties.

    Bush has ruled by deception. It would be a very dangerous situation to have the media continue to have him act without keeping a watch on him.

  17. Ron,

    I appreciate the general concept, but this is about a specific program that is perfectly legal, and which the Congress has been briefed about.

    Freedom of the press is one thing. Responsibility is another.

    I can think of several cases when the press have been demonstrably deceptive either by omission or by deliberate distortion in the past few years.

    Who will watch the watchdogs?

    Oh, and Fitzmas didn’t come, did it, battlebob?

  18. Fred,
    You never answered the question about Plame.
    Here it is again as you may have missed it.
    Do you think it was ok for this administration to have Valeria Plame named as a CIA agent?

    Keller tried to weigh the pros and cons which is more then Bush ever does.

    If this administration wasn’t so secretive about everything and a press up to now has been nothing but a bunch of lapdogs then maybe they have a right to cry fowl. But everything this administration does is a secret; not to fight terrorism; but to remain and extend their power.
    I view it as Bush getting caught in another deception. But actually, the administration may be correct this time.

  19. Whether or not Rove there was sufficient evidence to indict Rove doesn’t change the fact that Plame’s identity was outed in retaliation against a critic of Bush’s policies. Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby was indicted, and it is certainly possible more indictments could come after his trial.

    In order to have the benefits of freedom we have to accept that the media, doing their job, will publish things that not all agree should be published. That is far better than the alternative.

    The Times did show responsibility in first giving the Bush administration to show whether this report would actually do any harm.

    Yes, we have had problems with the press being deceptive. This has generally been seen with the press deceiving the public to push the administration line. Fortunatley the NY Times is now providing some balance.

  20. Ron,

    I wouldn’t call what the Times did “showing responsibility”. I’d call it “Bloody arrogance”.


    As for Plame:

    Lapdogs? Oh that truthiness. I do wonder where you get that stuff some times. It never was that strong back when I smoked it.

  21. Do you think someone is covering up something about Plame or is it just business as usual?

    Why wasn’t Novack treated with the same outrage that Kellor is?

    Kinda like getting a BJ in the oval office is worse then lieing to go to war.

    The press has taken a pass on the war, homeland security, the environment, medicare, social security, health care, Plame and any serious issue that would show how incompetent this administrationis.

    But a murder in Aruba? All over it forever.
    Ferret out the facts about WMDs…forgetaboutit.

  22. Fred,
    Its great you gave up dope..now try giving up the kool-aid.


    lapdog press

  23. The Wall Street Journal is a great newspaper. Unfortuantley its opinion section, which Fred links to, does not meet the WSJ’s standards for fact or honesty in reporting. Linking to them does not offer any sort of proof of any argument.

  24. Oh, brother. Somehow I knew that distraction was the name of the game when Plame came up.

    Keller just blew a program that was actually producing results against terrorism. There’s no comparison. Joe Wilson deserved the outrage, not Bob Novak.

    Wikipedia is no better of a source than the WSJ editorial page.

    And just because the press won’t run with the latest tinfoil-hat story doesn’t mean that they’re administration lapdogs. The media have been practically all negative all the time over the war, the environment, medicare, social security, health care, etc. I don’t know what you want from them.

  25. Wikipedia is far more reliable than the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal.

    Joe Wilson spoke the truth when Bush was lying. He didn’t deserve either the outrage or having his wife outed.

    Outing his wife not only ended here career as a covert agent, it also exposed a CIA front company she was working with.

    The press failed to challenge Bush’s deceptions every step of the way leading to the war, and gave hiim a free ride for over four years. We don’t want them running with tin foil hat stories. We want them to investigate and publish the truth.

  26. Americans are pathetic. There is no difference between Republicans and Democrats. You all sit on these blogs ranting about nothing. “Oh I think this and I think that”. Meanwhile you’re blowing the stuffing out of some small town half way round the world. The biggest joke is that Democrats think themselves morally superior.

    Get off your computers and go do something nice for your families or friends.

  27. “Meanwhile you’re blowing the stuffing out of some small town half way round the world.”

    Actually there is a major difference between Republicans and Democrats. While there is not 100% agreement in either party, in general they support blowing up those small towns while we oppose it.

  28. Fred,
    Going back to the original premise: Was Keller wrong to do this?
    Did you really read Keller response?
    A few points:

    “We weighed most heavily the Administration’s concern that describing this program would endanger it. The central argument we heard from officials at senior levels was that international bankers would stop cooperating, would resist, if this program saw the light of day. We don’t know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling. First, the bankers provide this information under the authority of a subpoena, which imposes a legal obligation. Second, if, as the Administration says, the program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it. The Bush Administration and America itself may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seems to have pretty strong support everywhere. And while it is too early to tell, the initial signs are that our article is not generating a banker backlash against the program.”

    my comment
    This is an effective program because the bankers that participate need to make it successful. They are interested in following the money also.

    “A secondary argument against publishing the banking story was that publication would lead terrorists to change tactics. But that argument was made in a half-hearted way. It has been widely reported — indeed, trumpeted by the Treasury Department — that the U.S. makes every effort to track international financing of terror. Terror financiers know this, which is why they have already moved as much as they can to cruder methods. But they also continue to use the international banking system, because it is immeasurably more efficient than toting suitcases of cash.”.

    The problem the right has is the press may finally be showing a spine and may be shedding their cheerleader pom-poms.

    I continue to have doubts that this story should have been printed. One of the many valid criticisms of BushCo is the desire to not follow any trails that would involve cooperating with other countries. For once, they are getting international bankers to help. They may have to face unhappy clients and members of their own countries baking regulators.
    The problem facing Keller is ignoring the possible illegality of it. He could not remain silent if international banking laws are broken.
    There is no easy answer and he had to make a call. Is Bush unhappy about international bankers pulling out (not happening) or is he unhappy about breaking more laws (hasn’t bothered him so far)?

  29. Ron


  30. Get a Life,
    The small towns are being blown up by the other guy.
    We are the ones who want it stopped.

    BTW…in a topic above is a campaign to get us out of Iraq.

  31. gees…banking regulators instead of baking regulators..

  32. The Federal government has had the right, for decades, to examine the details of any transfer of funding of $10,000 or more. This is a law that was enacted to combat organized crime. The fact that they’re doing so to potentially unearth terrorism should be unremarkable; I don’t get it.

  33. George is right about the 10K and up transactions. Why the fuss from Bush and co? Good lord Judith Miller and her ilk at the times have certainly helped him and rove more than they have hurt.

    The 10K law has been on the books for a while so it’s not hard to find info about it. The government needs to enforce the laws already on the books.

    As for the NYT? Sorry but after the hit piece on Kerry last week and the fact that they knew about the wiretap for almost 2 years before they spilled the beans make them no better than rove in my book.

    The press was given freedom and congress was given oversight duties and both organizations have failed this country miserably the last 6 years. The press has become propaganda for bush and the GOP congress are his lackeys.

    As for the liberal press? Puleeze, the press covers up all of the bush bullsi!! and regurgitates GOP talking points 24/7 without checking to see if they have the facts right.

    I don’t expect nor want a liberal or democrat press just a balanced and fact based press.

    In the end the Times covered up for bush so if he nails them hate to say it but I won’t loose any sleep. It will serve them right and perhaps the editors of wapo and Nyt and Lat will remember when you play with snakes your bound to get bit sooner or later.

    GOP needs to stop talking about how they are for national security when the Whitehouse breeched National security by outing Plame and causing the work she was doing on Iran to end. Now they want us to believe they are on top of the Iran situation.

  34. “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
    — John F. Kennedy

  35. Treasury Secretary John Snow replies to Bill Keller: Letter to the Editors of The New York Times

  36. The NY Times wants to hide under the mantle of freedom of the press but a good argument could be made that making the terrorists explicity aware of how the financial tracking is being done is akin to shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theater. Or even more seriously, it is analogous to publishing information to pyromaniacs that make their proclivity for starting fires more probable of success in movie theatres. This financial tracking was very effective in catching several terrorists in the past. Just because the Times has the legal right to publish this information does not make it right. With the right comes responsibility but I doubt that the NY Times or its editor will even be held accountable (indeed it would be hard to assess) for leaking this information which leads to terrorists changing their tactics and becoming more effective as a result.

  37. “but a good argument could be made that making the terrorists explicity aware of how the financial tracking is being done is akin to shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theater.”

    An argument could be made, but of course it would not be valid. On the specifics it ignores the precautions the Times took to ensure that the information would not be harmful to national security. In a more general sense the argument fails as, if accepted, governments (and those who blindly support them) would always claim that shining any light on them is both dangerous to national security and akin to shouting fire in a crowded movie theater.

  38. John Snow. How seriously do we take something from John Snow? Do I respond without using the expression “Snow job?”

    NPR’s Morning Edition summed up his career pretty well this morning. Rather than having any signficant policy contributions, his main job was to promote Bush’s policies. It looks like Snow is doing this until the end.

  39. After eading and re-reading Keller it is obvious there were questions of national security at stake. They admitted the issue wasn’t cut and dried.

    Snow maybe a hack but he made points about the Times finanial knowledge that I also asked.

    The Times thought there was a chance the program was illegal. If that were the case, could they have demanded an off-the record investigation?

    The Times was in a no-win position and in that case the rule must be do no harm to innocent people.

    If there were no legal implications then they should have kept quiet. Even Kerry has said to defeat terrorism follow the money. Obviously it must be done legally.

    If BushCo was once again braking the law (we only have one said saying no and the other side saying maybe) then the Times is obligated to report crimes.

  40. Good for the New york times, they need to keep these dirty politics in order. Now that the New York Times is being attacked by Bush and Cheney, the real threats to the world. They should do an in depth investigation into Mr. Bush’s past, get that out in the open. But do it quick, or people will disappear!
    This isn’t a real war, unfortunately people are dying, but only for the corporation waiting to take over when it’s all done. They may be in deep sh** now, but in the future you’ll all be seen as the ones who brought it out into the open and stopped the police state they’er trying to make.

  41. Follow the money…to the NYT. The newspaper business is at least a $100 billion a year business. The newspaper business is losing ground to the internet, including blogs like this on a massive scale every year. The decision is not moral, or for the good of the country or the Democrats. It’s strictly money.

  42. This incident has really shown what the right wing thinks of freedom of the press.

    I note that even many blogs that bill themselves as moderate Republican or centrist are supportive of the times, while the far right shows their authoritarian colors. Glenn Greenwald responds to many of the right wing attacks today.

  43. The arguments all seem to revolve around Freedom of the Press vs. Safety of the People. Some have made the point that without freedom of the press we would be less safe than we are now. I think I would have to agree with that. Many here and elsewhere have argued for the responsibility of the press. How can anyone disregard responsibility without losing their own credibility? So I must agree that the press should be responsible. Would it not be dangerous if the press gained our trust only to abuse it? Of course, it seems as though we only get our information from the press and come with a predetermined notion of who’s who and what’s what and praise media that verifies us and claim all else heretical. I believe that left or right, those that pick a side love our country. Both sides have very strong arguments which the other side attempts to pick apart but can muster no strong counter-argument. Partly because the chosen platforms on both side are noble. Left: homeland freedom is supremely invaluable and without it democracy is worthless. Right: spreading democracy and freedom to the world is the only way to have a safe home. Each sounds shallow to the other side. Look at the past great politicians. They were the democrats that supported the spread of democracy and the republicans that placed high value on homeland freedoms. Unfortunately there are times, as in the case with the financial monitoring, it seems as though you can only have one. I will not argue that freedom of the press outweighs our safety, or that NYT was irresponsible by threating or safety. In order for NYT to get the information they needed to publish the story, someone had to break a law. At that moment, the journalist should have held up his hands and defended his own (and our) freedom by supporting our nations laws. He could then, if he felt like the story was something significant and that people ought to know, set about obtaining the same information from a legal source. If he was denied, then the story remains unpublished. I don’t see how I benefit from the knowledge, personally. I do understand that there are terrorist that read NYT and even live in our country that would if nothing else become more wary of using traditional methods of financing. Even the right would have to agree that the whole concept of conservatism is less interferrence and monitoring by the government. Keller said that this was a very difficult decision. I believe him. But I would have chosen differently simply because the story could not have been without laws being broken. That makes it more irresponsible than putting Freedom of the Press over public safety. You can argue that we cannot be safe without freedom of the press, but you cannot argue that we would be more safe if everyone picked which laws they would obey. NYT did not break the law, but they allowed it and have now supported that decision by publishing. Right or left, can you congratulate the encouragement of lawlessness?

  44. By that logic, a newspaper would never be able to publish information that the government wants kept secret. Governemnt officials had concerns that things they saw the government do were illegal and spoke to reporters. If this is “lawlessness” I would encourage it.

    The real issue is that conservatives are upset that the editorial pages of the New York Times oppose their agenda. At the same time they attack the NY Times, they remain totally silent about the Wall Street Journal investigating and reporting on the same story.

  45. I don’t think that everything the government wants to keep secret should be, however someone unauthorized to disclose classified information did. They may have had their reasons, but it was illegal. Can you ever justify breaking one law to prevent another be broken? We have to be very careful. This sets up a slippery slope and is a precedent that could weaken even the fiber of society. Even recently with the Darren Mack case, where he killed his wife and the judge that presided over his family case, Mack claims that it was justified for the injustices he suffered. Inexcusable on all grounds. To allow injustice to breed injustice is exactly what we want to stop, right? If we stand for freedom and justice, let us stand for it on all accounts, not just where it serves our goals.

  46. I’m sorry, I mistakenly included that Mack killed the judge. That is incorrect. He is implicated in the judges shooting, but the judge did not die.

  47. This pertains only to the media’s function as a watchdog over government–not to murder (or attempted murder). There is no “slippery slope” such as you describe. Having people in the government reveal information to the media is not the same type of lawlessness, and is necessary to maintain a free society. Without people in the inside speaking out the government could act in total secrecy. Past abuses, such as the Pentagon Papers would never have been released.

    There are certainly risks as well as benefits to the media’s function as a watchdog. The founding fathers wisely weighed these risks when they came down on the side of newspapers, understanding the necessity if we were to preserve the liberties they fought for.

  48. I think, then, for the most part we agree. Murder, as you say, is definitely not the same sort of lawlessness, but I still fear acceptance of any lawlessness. To keep people inside of the government reporting legally is where our responsibility comes in as voters. We must keep people in office that we know will always encourage disclosure of information to the press so as to keep it a legal process. If we have someone in office that we trust to do that as often as possible, this becomes a non-issue. Until then, we cannot encourage the breaking of laws, regardless of what type of lawlessness it is. It simply invalidates our own integrity, no matter how justifiable it is.