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July 10, 2006

NYTimesWatch: The Plaming Of The Press

Sacre bleu! Once again our eyeballs have been assaulted by the tiresome bleatings of these radical reich-wingers! Parasitical remoras, always biting the ankles of their betters! Nicholas Kristof rightly takes arrogant bloggers to task for their dishonest criticism of the mainstream media (via FbL, who keeps dropping off my blogroll for some unknown reason):

With President Bush leading a charge against the "disgraceful" New York Times and a conservative talk-show host, Melanie Morgan, suggesting that maybe the Times' executive editor should be executed for treason, we face a fundamental dispute about the role of the press in America.

At stake is the Bush administration's campaign to recast the relationship between government and the press. One mechanism is the threat to prosecute editors or reporters, for the first time, under the 1917 Espionage Act.

Far be it from us to argue with M. Kristof, who's been deservedly lampooned, err... lionized by none other than the half-vast editorial staff's brilliant left leaning idol-du-jour, Michael Kinsley. But as we have already observed, the Espionage Act has been invoked against journalists on at least one prior occasion:

An uproar ensued in those quarters in Washington that were privy to the highly sensitive nature of the leak. The War Department and the Justice Department raised the question of criminal proceedings against the Tribune under the Espionage Act of 1917. By August 1942, prosecutors brought the paper before a federal grand jury. But fearful of alerting the Japanese, and running up against an early version of what would come to be known as graymail, the government balked at providing jurors with yet more highly secret information that would be necessary to demonstrate the damage done.

So it was fear of alerting the enemy, not legal insufficiency, which impaired the government's case. Does this remind anyone of recent events? Lest memory fail, the Times threatened to publish incorrect classified information in the Treasury Dept. case, forcing the administration to hastily declassify correct details about a secret program to avoid a public trial which would have entailed the release of even more classified details. This is known as greymail. Advantage: Bill Keller. But back to the historical record:

Thus, in the end, the Tribune managed to escape criminal prosecution. For their part, the Japanese either never got wind of the story circulating in the United States or were so convinced that their naval codes were unbreakable that they dismissed its significance. In any case, they left them unaltered, and their naval communications continued to be read by U.S. and British cryptographers until the end of the war.

If the government’s attempt to employ the provisions of the 1917 Espionage Act in the heat of World War II failed, another effort three decades later was no more successful. This was the move by the Nixon White House to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo for leaking the Pentagon Papers, which foundered on the rocks of the administration’s gross misconduct in investigating the offense. The administration also petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the New York Times from publishing Ellsberg’s leaked documents, in order to prevent “grave and irreparable danger” to the public interest; but it did not even mention the Espionage Act in this connection, presumably because that statute does not allow for the kind of injunctive relief it was seeking.

Note: the Times persistently and disingenuously portrays the Pentagon Papers case as "proof" the Espionage Act cannot be used against journalists. But many, if not a majority, of the justices in that case opined that they would not entertain injunctive relief (i.e., the Act did not allow government to stop prior publication, but they may well have supported prosecution had the Times gone ahead and published). This is yet another inconvenient truth Bill Keller et al think the reading public ought to be shielded from, his much-ballyhoo'd ethic of complete disclosure notwithstanding. It would seem that though transparency in government is our only safeguard against corruption, it becomes anathema when applied to those who demand transparency. After all, since they're demanding transparency of others, we should just trust them!

The half vast editorial staff awoke this morning feeling simply tingly in anticipation of the untold delights in store for us in Monday's editions of the local fishwrap Times and WaPo, and they did not disappoint. Tom Maguire elaborates:

The NY Times yesterday featured a Lichtblau-Shane story centered around a once-confidential letter to President Bush from Peter Hoekstra, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Here is the Times lead, but stay with me, since they buried a great tidbit:
In a sharply worded letter to President Bush in May, an important Congressional ally charged that the administration might have violated the law by failing to inform Congress of some secret intelligence programs and risked losing Republican support on national security matters.

This is familiar country for the Times. Lather, rinse, repeat: the most dangerous Amerikkkan President since Adolf Hitler, harmless vegan non-Muslim non-terrorists being rounded up and sent to airless cells in Gitmo to face the endless horror of genital mocking, midnight knocks on the door, the BushReich inventing signing statements from a Q-tip, Harry Reid's fingernail shavings, and some eye of newt... AIEEEEEEE!!!!! Where were we? Oh, Hoekstra (that's "HOOK-stra" for you peons in the cheap seats). The interesting thing is that the Times, per their longstanding practice, buries the really good part deeper than the "non-news" that that non-threatening guy, Saddam Hussein, was abducting and torturing CNN's Iraqi news stringers:

I understand that Mr. Kappes is a capable, well-qualified, and well-liked former Directorate of Operations (DO) case officer. I am heartened by the professional qualities he would bring to the job, but concerned by what could be the political problems that he could bring back to the agency. There has been much public and private speculation about the politicization of the Agency. I am convinced that this politicization was underway well before Porter Goss became the Director. In fact, I have long been convinced that a strong and well-positioned group within the Agency intentionally undermined the Administration and its policies. This argument is supported by the Ambassador Wilson/Valerie Plame events, as well as by the string of unauthorized disclosures from an organization that prides itself with being able to keep secrets.

Holy Mackerel! Has Karl Rove gotten control of Congress now? Ed Morrissey notes an aspect the half-vast editorial staff have long played with, to the derision of many lefty visitors to this site:

Tom picks up on something that I missed on my reading of these two articles and the letter. My analysis ran to the simpler notion that the Times buried the criticism of Kappes because of his association with the long-known faction within the CIA that has consistently resisted direction from the elected officials of this country, a problem regardless of which party holds power. Our system is based on civilian control of the government in all its facets through elections, and that means that the people we elect make policy. I also thought that maybe the Times didn't want to make its source and one-time columnist, Joe Wilson, look bad by showing the contempt that the HIC has for him.

However, Tom sees something entirely different in the Times' gloss-over. He sees (and I wish I'd caught this) Hoekstra accusing Kappes of being one of the leakers at the CIA, presumably to the Times. Why wouldn't the Times include this as part of their report? Perhaps because they want to protect their source.

Over and over and over again the HVES have hammered Patrick Fitzgerald for letting Judy Miller off the hook. Let's break this down:

1. He sent Miller to spend 85 days pointlessly funneling quarters into the Snickers machine at the Alexandria Detention Center, ostensibly on the pretense that her testimony was indispensible to his case. There, sadly, she was viciously attacked by Karl Rove. (Sorry, but if you can't laugh about this case, you end up crying). Suddenly Miller "remembers" a prior meeting with Libby after getting a specific release (an addition to a prior general waiver authorizing her to testify). Though this is obviously a contradiction to her previous testimony and she has been far less busy than Libby for the previous few months, Fitz shows no interest in prosecuting her for her poor memory, nor for her outright refusal to identify her other source, who is mysteriously forgotten in all of this.

2. Fitgerald never even bothered to establish the most elementary grounds to believe a crime had been committed: Plame's covert status. Most likely this was because sane folks like Marty Peretz had publicly stated that "everyone in Georgetown" knew who she worked for. Of course the other obvious reason is that no one seriously believes this was ever a crime.

3. Miller herself has a long history of interfering with criminal prosecutions, including some run by Fitzgerald himself. This makes it even odder that he would cut a deal with her - there must have been some residual animus between them.

4. There appears to be a longstanding partnership between the intelligence communities and the media and it has actively undermined the administration. Furthermore, the NYT and the WaPo have deliberately underreported or slanted the results of the Butler Report, the Robb-Silverman Report, and the SSCI investigation; all of which (though nuanced) essentially concluded the administration neither influenced nor lied about the intelligence, which was flawed.

5. The real crime here appears, as we have long suspected, to be a conspiracy in the CIA to undermine our foreign policy by planting false (see the Senate Select Intelligence Committee Investigation) allegations in the New York Times against an embattled President during wartime. The administration, of course, could not fight back without falling neatly into the trap of looking like they were "outing" a "covert" super-secret agent whose Secret Squirrel identity, as Marty Peretz noted soon after this story came out, was common knowledge on the Georgetown dinner circuit. Maybe this is the best support for Tigerhawk's proposal that the media question the motivation of their anonymous sources.

But you'll never read that in the WaPo, or the NYT for that matter. And even though none other than Walter Pincus admits off the record that he doesn't think L'Affair Plame was a crime (via Maguire):

“I don’t think it was a crime,” he says. “I think it got turned into a crime by the press, by Joe” — Wilson — “by the Democrats. The New York Times kept running editorials saying that it’s got to be investigated — never thinking that it was going to turn around and bite them.”

...that's an Inconvenient Truth that never seems to show up in his news stories.

And that's a damned Plame. Go figure.

Posted by Cassandra at July 10, 2006 05:44 AM


Just so I'm understanding all this,
(1) the Times publishes secrets that are fed to it by career bureaucrats with an anti-adminstration agenda;
(2) the administration gets upset at the Times for giving it the finger when it is asked not to publish the secrets;
(3) the Times publishes the secrets;
(4) the adminsitration rebukes the Times publically;
(5) some people get upset with the Times;
(6) the Times whines and declares itself a victim
(7) the Times offers as an excuse that they weren't really secrets anyway;
(8) nobody believes the Times
(9) the Times makes front page news around the globe for another few weeks, boosting circulation and ad revenue;
(10) More to come in a few weeks.

Posted by: spd rdr at July 10, 2006 08:13 AM

You might want to put; "An increase in terrorist suicide bombings which had been partially curtailed by drying up funds that have magically reappeared thereby killing more innocents and American troops", right after #3 there spd.

It's all about the Benjamins!

Get troops killed and you're the victim? Gotta' love the "free" press eh?

Posted by: JarheadDad at July 10, 2006 09:15 AM

I must find my tin hat quickly! I must the Kool-Aid ingest! I can't figure out which conspiracy is which, so in light of this we must surrender to the Keebler Elves!


Posted by: Cricket at July 10, 2006 10:26 AM

Mr. Keller, I’m confused.

You tell us there is no indication of improper use of the international banking information the government has been examining, but we need to know about the program, in detail, because MAYBE someone, someday, MIGHT misuse it.

So tell me again why we have no need to know about the ACTUAL evidence of very REAL civil liberties abuses, committed by actual government officials, that were uncovered by the Barrett Investigation, not to mention the frantic, and so far successful, efforts of Democrats to suppress this evidence.

Silly me. I would have thought that real abuse was more serious than “maybe, someday” potential abuse.

Posted by: Roger at July 10, 2006 10:41 AM

I a little confused about the practical issues. The person recieving classified information knows its classified. How does the reporter know? Admittedly with the Pentagon Papers the word classified appeared on the pages, but this is perhaps not true of the Valery Plame name leak. Even though the letter circulated on Air Force One did say the information was classified - the reporters apparently did not see that letter. Further, under the unitary executive theory the president or his underlings both classify and declassify information. This gives them total control over what Americans hear and what they don't hear - freedom of information and FOIA be damned. What is to be the check and balance on that? I thought freedom required transparency?

I'm sure both parties have misused classified information and their classification powers. I believe these misuses are best brought to light. Do you?

Posted by: Lindata at August 12, 2006 11:29 AM

Well, first of all that is why Presidents can be impeached. If someone in the intelligence community believes intelligence was improperly classified or declassified, they can go to Congress and ask for an investigation.

That is the proper venue - not the NY Times.

The three branches of government check each other.

As far as a reporter knowing the information is classified, you cannot prosecute them if they did not know. That is what the law states, and the court did not change the law. It simply said the law was not unconstitutional. You would still have to prove in a court of law that the reporter knew the information was classified. Obviously if he stated in his story that it was classified, he's going to have a pretty hard time saying he didn't know.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 12, 2006 12:19 PM

Also Linda, not all information can be FOIA'd.

So your idea that freedom requires complete transparency isn't really accurate, unless you believe you haven't been "free" all your life. For instance, you can't FOIA a whole lot of Congressional information. Interesting, huh? Congress exempts itself from the very discovery it demands of everyone else.

And you certainly can't FOIA Bill Keller's sources. How "free" are you when the very information you depend on to make decisions every day comes from "anonymous sources" that regularly turn out to be not quite what they were stated to be, or photographs that aren't of what the captions say they are? But you can't FOIA that stuff. There is no transparency or accountability of the fourth branch of government. Because if anyone checks up on the press, the Republic will wither on the vine :)

Too funny.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 12, 2006 12:24 PM

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