I refuse to take a back seat to anyone in my support for constitutional principles. No lefty, no privacy advocate, no civil liberties absolutist, and certainly no smarmy, self righteous, sickeningly smug Executive Editor of a newspaper like the New York Times and its cowardly editor Bill Keller can look me in the eye and accuse me of less. Those who question my support for those principles know nothing of me, my past, my passions nor my sincerity.
I have questioned many of this Administration’s anti-terrorist measures and am troubled by the accumulation of power by the executive branch - a process, I might add, that both the President and Vice President have stated on numerous public occasions their intent to justify and continue. They have made no secret of their goal to, in their words, “bring the constitution back in balance,” a state of affairs they attribute to the stripping of executive power by Congress following Watergate. I look at these statements and some of their actions with the jaundiced eye of a conservative who remembers what untrammelled executive power is capable of when used by men whose primary goal is not preservation of the nation but preservation of their own personal, privileged positions in power.
I have wrestled with with these issues on a case by case basis as any thinking American should. This lets out the overwhelming majority of liberals whose knees automatically jerk and whose heads explode with every revelation of government trying to figure out if there is someone out there trying to blow me to smithereens. They are not serious people and should never, ever be trusted with anything more important to national security than running the local YMCA.
This most recent attempt by the New York Times and others to throw a body block against the Administration to spring al-Qaeda for an open field run at the United States is so far beyond the pale that any attempt to justify their actions only reveals them to be as clueless about national security as they are partisan in their political beliefs.
Indeed, this jaw dropping “explanation” by Times Executive Editor Bill Keller reaches heights of hubris and arrogance not seen since the days of Hearst, McCormick, and other press barons who believed they, not the elected representatives of the people, ran the country:
Bill Keller, the newspaper’s executive editor, said: “We have listened closely to the administration’s arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration. We remain convinced that the administration’s extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest.”
There are many, many things “in the public interest” that I would love to see splattered all over the front pages of the Times. For instance, I would find it irresistible to know what was in the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) from the CIA each day, wouldn’t you? I would love a transcript of the private briefing listened to by the President. What questions did he ask? What were the spook’s sources? And while we’re at it, I would find it fascinating to get the CIA’s take on the situation inside Syria or what’s the real scoop on President Ahmadinejad of Iran. Is he really as loony as he sounds? Or is it all an act?
Talk about “public interest!” The Times would sell a gazillion copies if they printed that stuff. Of course, I’m not saying the Times is quite so irresponsible as all that. But the point needs answering.
Where does one draw the line on “public interest?” Does the Times have the obligation to disclose its internal debates that went into the decision to out this particular program? Do its editors and writers have an obligation to fan out and appear in public forums like the cable nets and talk radio shows to explain their rationale for publicizing a program that even they admit in their 5,000 word article is legal?
Keller is a coward. And his refusal to appear on shows like Hugh Hewitt’s program only leaves the impression that he knows what he did is unjustifiable under any doctrine that includes “the public’s right to know” or that the Times was acting in the even more problematic “public interest.” The reporters on the piece are less responsible but should still demonstrate a little backbone and come out from behind the Time’s firewall and explain themselves.
Patterico wrestles with the legal implications:
As to the separate question of whether these folks can and/or should be criminally prosecuted, I havenâ€™t made up my mind. I lean toward the conclusion that prosecutions are possible and wise. But itâ€™s not as obvious as you might think. In the context of the current situation, the answer may seem obvious. But it is easy to imagine other situations where it is not.
The boys at Powerline are much more certain about what should be done:
It is unfortunately past time for the Bush administration to enforce the laws of the United States against the New York Times. The Times and its likeminded media colleagues will undoubtedly continue to undermine and betray the national security of the United States until they are taught that they are subject to the same laws that govern the conduct of ordinary citizens, or until an enraged citizenry decides, like Bill Keller, to take the law into its own hands and express its disagreement some other way.
From a purely practical point of view, making Keller and the Times reporters do the perp walk would cause a constitutional crisis no matter how “legal” the prosecutions would be or how justifiable they would be under the present circumstances. Nearly every media outlet in the country would condemn it and it would certainly set off a Congressional row. It may actually end up being much more trouble than those gentlemen are worth. In fact, the prosecutions may have the opposite effect that Powerline envisions. Just to prove how brave they are, journalists would take it upon themselves perhaps to publish all sorts of classified information, daring the Department of Justice to prosecute them.
What we can do is being done - flood their inboxes with mail and condemn their actions with all the moral outrage we can muster. It won’t change a thing with regards to this story. But it may make Keller and the Times think a little harder next time about publishing national security secrets.
Patterico has cancelled his subscription to the Los Angeles Times, one of three papers who broke the story yesterday. The other two were the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal.
He pointed out to the subscription specialist who tried to talk him out of cancelling that he wasn’t doing it because he disagreed with the newspaper. And anyone who has read Patterico’s year end summaries of what the LA Times has done knows that he has plenty of ammunition there. Rather, he cancelled because he cannot abide by the paper’s decision to publish details of the top secret program:
I told the man that officials from the Bush Administration had begged the newspaperâ€™s editors not to print this story, but the editors ran the story anyway. I told him that I think publishing the story was completely irresponsible, totally lacking in any justification, and has posed a threat to the safety of our country. And I just canâ€™t continue to subscribe to a newspaper that would do such a thing.
This is another way to make newspapers think twice about publishing such stories. Hopefully, many more will follow his example.