Bill Keller On PBS: Treasury Dept. Public Briefings More Useful Than The N.Y. Times

July 6th, 2006 2:16 PM

Bill Keller, editor of The New York Times, was on the PBS "NewsHour" last night to discuss the fallout over the fact that on June 23, The New York Times among other papers, revealed classified anti terrorism programs. Mr. Keller attempted to downplay the revelation as not a big deal because:

"We weighed very heavily and looked in excruciating detail at claims that this was not something that terrorists knew, that this would somehow be useful to terrorists. And the fact is, you know, you can find more useful detail about what the Treasury is doing in the Treasury's own public briefings."

If there is more useful detail on the public record, then why didn’t the Times print that instead? How does the Times know that the terrorists were already aware of the SWIFT program they wrote about? Did they talk to any terrorists to find out? The fact is, as Bill Keller goes on to mention:

"I mean, our job, as news organizations, is to tell people how well their elected representatives are doing in the war on terror. That doesn't mean that we just tell them what they're doing wrong. It means we also try to take the measure of what they're doing that works."

So if the Swift program was successful, isn’t it logical to assume terrorists weren’t aware of it? And if terrorists weren’t aware of this program, and the New York Times revealed it anyway, haven’t they then undermined the war on terrorism and put American lives in jeopardy?

Later in the segment, reporter Jeffrey Brown asked Mr. Keller a question that many have on their mind, and that is what does Keller believe gives him and The New York Times the right to disclose this program:

"Mr. Keller, what explains to you this storm, in particular aimed at The New York Times? Do you think that Americans -- a lot of Americans would probably be asking, what gives you, The New York Times or The Los Angeles Times, or any other paper, the right to decide what is not dangerous, for example, or what is in their interest?"

Keller answered, smugly claiming the first amendment gives them that right:

"They are indeed asking that question, and I think there's a good deal of legitimate concern and confusion about that question. What gives us that right is the guys who wrote the Constitution. They had in mind a system whereby ordinary citizens and editors, amateurs, were entitled, under the basic law of the country, to second-guess the leadership of the country. That's a responsibility that weighs heavily on us and that we take very, very seriously."

Well Mr. Keller, with right’s come responsibilities and the first amendment is not absolute in it’s protections. Courts have limited the scope of the first amendment in areas like speech, the free exercise of religion and so forth. Even for the press there are libel and slander laws. If there are laws against maliciously defaming somebody’s character, it seems to me, that printing something that puts at risk my right to live, against the advice of the Secretary of the Treasury, the Director of National Intelligence, and members of the 9/11 Commission, is not only irresponsible but could be criminal.