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June 30, 2006

The New York Times, Then And Now

Back in January we documented the Times' stunning hypocrisy regarding the Joe Wilson story:

At the height of L'Affaire Plame, the half-vast editorial staff painstakingly pointed out the myriad ways in which the NY Times had abandoned any claim to journalistic principles. Undeterred by the trainwreck that was Judy Miller the Times blundered on, spending the meager remains of its credibility faster than a 14th Street pimp with one day left to live.

If we examine the Times' various pronouncements over the years, we find a flexible urban sensibility that rivals even John Kerry's famed Multivariate Cartesian Co-directionality. In other words, they've done an admirable job of covering themselves.

Long-time fans of The Papir of Recard are by now well aware of its penchant for historical revisionism. In fact, we suspect it was a dawning awareness of certain ... shall we say... inconsistencies in the Pompous Windbaggery emanating from the Editor's Desk which led the Times to erect that oh-so-convenient TimesSelect wall.

Lately, Executive Editor Bill Keller has been falling all over himself in an effort to justify the publication of a story outing a successful terrorist tracking program. Huffily, he assures the reading public that the Times takes terrorism very seriously:

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.
- Bill Keller, Executive Editor, NY Times
June 25, 2006

Well we feel much better now. Certainly the threat was not abstract on September 25, 2001 - a mere three weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center. Via Ilyka, we learn that the Times was little concerned with privacy then, nor with the government tracking financial records:

President Bush has just stepped up efforts against the international financial network that provides the lifeblood for Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist organization. He is setting up an interagency Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center and has signed an executive order to cut off terrorists and their supporters from the United States economy. These are good first steps, but much more will have to be done.

We should begin by recognizing what we're dealing with. It is wrong to think of Al Qaeda as being financed primarily by Mr. bin Laden. If there were a single source of financing, the problem would be much easier to solve. More important is Al Qaeda's global network of financial donors, Muslim charities, legal and illegal businesses, and underground money transfer businesses.

The administration should now make broader use of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the law cited by President Bush in his executive order. That law allows the federal government to threaten to cut off foreign governments and institutions from the American economy if they do not take action against the Al Qaeda financial network or cooperate in giving the United States information on terrorist financing.

The interesting thing is why the Times wanted President Bush to invoke the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. You see, President Clinton had done it when we weren't even at war:

This strategy was adopted by the Clinton administration after the terrorist attacks on the American embassies in East Africa in 1998, when President Clinton signed similar executive orders against Al Qaeda and the Taliban government in Afghanistan. In some instances, it worked. The efforts helped ground the Afghan national airline, making it harder for Al Qaeda to move resources back and forth from Afghanistan. But over all, we had only limited success. In some cases, foreign governments lacked political will. In other cases, the governments had little ability to help because they had no system to combat money laundering or to audit fund-raising organizations. In the wake of the recent attacks and greater attention to charities that provide direct fund-raising links between Al Qaeda and societies in the Middle East, the Bush administration may be more effective in pressuring other governments.

In 2001, the Times urges President Bush to invoke the IEEPA and aggressive track terrorist finances. They lament Clinton's lack of success, but hope Bush will have more luck. And what does the President do?

Exactly what Clinton did during the 1990's. Exactly what the Times had asked him to do. Except this time, it worked for a change:

Terrorism investigators had sought access to SWIFT's database since the 1990s, but other government and industry authorities balked at the potential blow to confidence in the banking system. After the 2001 attacks, President Bush overrode those objections and invoked his powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to "investigate, regulate or prohibit" any foreign financial transaction linked to "an unusual and extraordinary threat."

Levey and other officials emphasized that the government has confined its financial surveillance to legitimate terrorism investigations and tightly targeted searches.

After identifying a suspect, Levey said, "you can do a search, and you can determine whom he sent money to, and who sent money to him."

"The way the SWIFT data works, you would have all kinds of concrete information -- addresses, phone numbers, real names, account numbers, a lot of stuff we can really work with, the kind of actionable information that government officials can really follow up on," Levey said.

But that wasn't good enough, was it? Bush followed the Times' advice to the letter. He succeeded where Clinton failed. And what was the Times' response, five years later? Disregarding the pleas of lawmakers from both parties, they illegally published the details of a classified program:

Mr. Fratto went on to ask the Times not to publish such a story on grounds that it would damage this useful terror-tracking method.

Sometime later, Secretary John Snow invited Times Executive Editor Bill Keller to his Treasury office to deliver the same message. Later still, Mr. Fratto says, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, the leaders of the 9/11 Commission, made the same request of Mr. Keller. Democratic Congressman John Murtha and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte also urged the newspaper not to publish the story.

And it gets even better:

The Times decided to publish anyway, letting Mr. Fratto know about its decision a week ago Wednesday. The Times agreed to delay publishing by a day to give Mr. Fratto a chance to bring the appropriate Treasury official home from overseas. Based on his own discussions with Times reporters and editors, Mr. Fratto says he believed "they had about 80% of the story, but they had about 30% of it wrong." So the Administration decided that, in the interest of telling a more complete and accurate story, they would declassify a series of talking points about the program. They discussed those with the Times the next day, June 22.

This is just stunning. Essentially, by threatening to commit an illegal act, Bill Keller blackmailed the administration into releasing even more classified information.

The only two reasons I can think of for giving the Times (and therefore the terrorists) more information is that the Times' own informant either provided incorrect information that would have made the administration look worse, or they feared that if they allowed the Times to release incorrect information (a time-honored intel tactic called 'disinformation'), subsequent leaks would make it look as though there had been a cover-up.

Think about that for a second.

Bill Keller's arrogant refusal to cooperate with his own government during wartime not only endangered a valuable anti-terror program, but forced the government to release even more information to avoid a political nightmare that could bring the administration to its knees.

As if this weren't bad enough, the Times had the colossal nerve to claim the Journal was just as guilty:

We recount all this because more than a few commentators have tried to link the Journal and Times at the hip. On the left, the motive is to help shield the Times from political criticism.

...while Journal editors knew the Times was about to publish the story, Treasury officials did not tell our editors they had urged the Times not to publish. What Journal editors did know is that they had senior government officials providing news they didn't mind seeing in print. If this was a "leak," it was entirely authorized.

As I noted back in January, when Val Plame was "outed" the Times howled for enforcement of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act - a law they had previously claimed should be "wiped from the books". When it appeared journalists might be implicated, however, the Times conveniently pulled another about face.

Do the editorial staff of the New York Times mean anything they say? Over the past five years, they have repeatedly taken the President to task for being arrogant, for being insular, for not listening to others. Here we have a case where the President was given advice, and he clearly listened.

Bill Keller was given advice too: from the Treasury Department, from the 9/11 Commission, from members of Congress, from the intelligence community. But he declined to listen to anyone. In fact, Keller doesn't even pay attention to what his own paper called for right after 9/11. Once again the Times has pulled another volte-face, leaving puzzled onlookers with only one question.

Could al Qaeda have engineered anything more perfect, even if they wanted to?

Posted by Cassandra at June 30, 2006 08:44 PM

Comments

Cass, Cass, Cass. You have got the Times so wrong! As Messrs. Baquet and Keller so eloquently remind us in today's paen to journalistic integrity: "Our job, especially in times like these, is to bring our readers information that will enable them to judge how well their elected leaders are fighting on their behalf, and at what price."

Where is the love, people?

Posted by: spd rdr at July 1, 2006 09:39 AM

It's a good thing I didn't see that this morning.

I think my head would have exploded. I think we need another New York Times contest. Which do you want:

1. Another headlines contest
2. NY Times pathetic excuses for journalistic misconduct (my pick)
3. Unintentional Irony from the Op-Ed page (self-righteous salvos leveled at the administration that backfire, revealing the utter lack of integrity of the Times editorial staff)
4. Spin a Story Line

Posted by: Cassandra at July 1, 2006 09:56 AM

Or we could always do another Freudian Slips in the Corrections Section, but people seemed to have trouble with that last time.

Here's a funny one I found last week:

An article on Monday about the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that ended school segregation misstated a word in a paraphrase from President Bush, who attended a ceremony in Topeka, Kansas.

He called for a continuing battle to end racial inequality - not equality.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 1, 2006 10:05 AM

Beautiful. The Wall Street Journal's defense is "we were too stupid to know that the information was sensitive, but the NY Times is evil because they knew it was naughty to print the informat... wah, wah, wah, no one told us."

This is almost as believeable as Ronald Reagan's "I don't recall" defense during Iran Contra.

But hey, it's all Clinton's fault. Blame Bubba and drink some more Kool-Aid.

Posted by: Johnny at July 1, 2006 10:25 AM

I suspect that Johnny can't read.

Posted by: spd rdr at July 1, 2006 10:38 AM

Jack Kelly reminds us that the Chicago Tribune found out during WWII that the Japanese code had been cracked, and published a story which would have alerted the Japanese to their compromised code, had they read it. Roosevelt considered shutting the paper down, and trying the editor for treason, but the Japanese kept using the code. He believed that going forward with those plans would alert the Japanese to the story they'd missed. Worth reading the whole thing.

But with what the Chicago Tribune had done in mind, Congress in 1950 added Section 798 to the Espionage Act of 1917. It reads in part:

"Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits...or publishes ...any classified information...concerning the communications intelligence activities of the United States...shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both."

I say, pick up where Roosevelt left off.

Posted by: MathMom at July 1, 2006 10:53 AM

After the 2001 attacks, President Bush overrode those objections and invoked his powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act

Awesome, I was hoping it'd turn out to be the same EXACT act Wechsler wanted Bush to expand. I didn't really see why it shouldn't be, but then again, with the Feds one could easily have this act AND the Emergency International Economic Powers Act, the International Economic Emergency Powers Act, the People's Front of Judea, the Judean People's Front, etc.

Slam dunk and sayonara, Keller. This makes Jayson Blair look so small-time.

Posted by: ilyka at July 1, 2006 11:56 PM

Bill Keller and the NY TIMES are being mocked and eviscerated here ---

OSAMA THANK YOU CARD TO NY TIMES

Posted by: dougfromupland at July 2, 2006 01:17 AM

Doug

Good one! I love this, too.

Posted by: Darleen at July 2, 2006 04:26 AM

The NYTs all the crap thats fit to print

Posted by: Dirty Bird at July 3, 2006 02:26 PM

God Bless the New York Times and the freedom of the press.

Posted by: bloodstomper at July 16, 2006 03:16 PM

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