The New York Times’ irresponsible banking spy scoop is looking more and more like it will backfire on the paper, causing both a public relation nightmare and raising plausible legal concerns for both the leakers and the journalists they leaked to, as conservatives debate consequences for the paper's behavior.
Four days after it appeared on Friday's front page, the banking spy scoop is still roiling on Fox News and in the blogosphere. Taking the Web's temperature finds the right side enraged, engaged, and red hot, while it’s rather quiet on the left-wing front, indicating that just maybe the Times may have gone too far to rely on its usual allies to rise up in defense.
Indeed, one reads the original story (by the same notorious team of Eric Lichtblau and James Risen that uncovered the National Security Agency scoop last December) and you wonder why they bothered publishing. The Times itself finds no illegality, not a single allegation of a civil rights violation. What is left appears to be Editor Bill Keller's knee-jerk impulse to reveal any Bush administration secret at any time just because he can.
While the paper’s NSA alleged “domestic surveillance” scoop caused some dissent among some conservatives, the right seems unified against the Times on the matter of exposing surveillance of possible terror-related transactions at the international banking cooperative known as SWIFT. At least on one issue, the Times can brag that it has unified the conservative movement.
Tuesday’s front-page story by Sheryl Gay Stolberg shows the White House engaged in a fierce war of words with what it considers "disgraceful" behavior by the Times.
“President Bush on Monday condemned as ‘disgraceful’ the disclosure last week by The New York Times and other newspapers of a secret program to investigate and track terrorists that relies on a vast international database that includes Americans' banking transactions.
“The remarks were the first in public by Mr. Bush on the issue, and they came as the administration intensified its attacks on newspapers' handling of it. In a speech in
"’Congress was briefed,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘And what we did was fully authorized under the law. And the disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the
Vice president Cheney mixed it up as well, telling an audience at a fundraising luncheon: “Some in the press, in particular The New York Times, have made the job of defending against further terrorist attacks more difficult by insisting on publishing detailed information about vital national security programs.”
“The executive editor of The Times, Bill Keller, said in an e-mail statement on Monday evening that the decision to publish had been ‘a hard call.’ But Mr. Keller noted that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has ‘embarked on a number of broad, secret programs aimed at combating terrorism, often without seeking new legal authority or submitting to the usual oversight.’
“He added, ‘I think it would be arrogant for us to pre-empt the work of Congress and the courts by deciding these programs are perfectly legal and abuse-proof, based entirely on the word of the government.’”
Yet the Times itself pre-empted the anti-terror work of the administration by crippling another Al Qaeda-surveillance program.
The Times has one defender in Congress, the ultra-liberal Ed Markey of
For more on this story and other bias in the New York Times, visit TimesWatch.