Chutzpah Redefined at the New York Times

The New York Times evidently sensed a need to respond to last week’s announcement of a Justice Department investigation into who leaked to Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau for their December 16 scoop on surveillance of terror suspects in the U.S.

Wednesday’s editorial, “On the Subject of Leaks”, attempts to explain how one set of leaks (Plame’s identity as a CIA employee) was very bad, possibly criminal, and certainly worthy of investigation, while another set of leaks (uncovering the Bush administration’s surveillance of terror suspects without warrants) was a noble and patriotic deed that shouldn't be questioned. It's rough going for the paper, and basic logic doesn’t fare well either.

The pretentious harrumphing is admittedly audacious:

“A democratic society cannot long survive if whistle-blowers are criminally punished for revealing what those in power don't want the public to know -- especially if it's unethical, illegal or unconstitutional behavior by top officials. Reporters need to be able to protect these sources, regardless of whether the sources are motivated by policy disputes or nagging consciences. This is doubly important with an administration as dedicated as this one is to extreme secrecy.

“The longest-running of the leak cases involves Valerie Wilson, a covert C.I.A. operative whose identity was leaked to the columnist Robert Novak. The question there was whether the White House was using this information in an attempt to silence Mrs. Wilson's husband, a critic of the Iraq invasion, and in doing so violated a federal law against unmasking a covert operative.”

The Times claims:

“There is a world of difference between that case and a current one in which the administration is trying to find the sources of a New York Times report that President Bush secretly authorized spying on American citizens without warrants. The spying report was a classic attempt to give the public information it deserves to have. The Valerie Wilson case began with a cynical effort by the administration to deflect public attention from hyped prewar intelligence on Iraq.”

That’s a brutally unconvincing argument, reliant wholly on the reader agreeing with the highly dubious premise that the world (and Al Qaeda) are on a need-to-know basis regarding America’s anti-terrorism surveillance program.

And as long as the Times is pounding on about “information [the public] deserves to have,” why doesn’t it spare a few sentences to discuss the many whoppers told by Valerie Plame’s spouse Joseph Wilson? It’s coverage has been highly favorable and the paper has yet to dig into Wilson’s long record of misstatements.

The next sentence: “The leak inquiry in that case ended up targeting the press, and led to the jailing of a Times reporter.”

An inquiry, of course, that the Times supported fully, right up to the point that it began pointing toward Times reporter Judith Miller.

The paper ludicrously dares the White House to reveal confidential information to prove that its NSA spy scoop hurt national security:

“The White House has yet to show that national security was harmed by the report on electronic spying, which did not reveal the existence of such surveillance -- only how it was being done in a way that seems outside the law.”

The editorial concludes: “Illegal spying and torture need to be investigated, not whistle-blowers and newspapers.” How convenient.

For more examples of New York Times bias, visit TimesWatch.

War on Terrorism New York Times Government & Press
Clay Waters's picture

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