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December 17, 2005
Why Did The Gray Lady Play Coy With Its Scoop?

One of the eyebrow-raising revelations from the New York Times scoop on the secret NSA operation to intercept international communications came from the story itself, which acknowledged that the Times held back from publishing the story for a year. Today, the Washington Post's Paul Farhi takes a look at why the Times spiked the story for so long -- and why it decided to publish now:

In an unusual note, the Times said in its story that it held off publishing the 3,600-word article for a year after the newspaper's representatives met with White House officials. It said the White House had asked the paper not to publish the story at all, "arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny." ...

The paper offered no explanation to its readers about what had changed in the past year to warrant publication. It also did not disclose that the information is included in a forthcoming book, "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," written by James Risen, the lead reporter on yesterday's story. The book will be published in mid-January, according to its publisher, Simon & Schuster. ...

"Officials also assured senior editors of the Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions," Keller continued. "As we have done before in rare instances when faced with a convincing national security argument, we agreed not to publish at that time."

Translated, it means this: the New York Times ran it by their own legal staff to determine whether the program, as reported by Risen and Lichtblau, actually constituted an illegal activity by the government. The answer, obviously, was no. The NSA has the authority to review international communications without warrants -- in fact, that's supposed to be part of its raison d'etre -- and the definition of "international" as anything crossing an international border, including that of the US, might have policy implications but does not break the law. The revelation would not have done anything other than possibly weaken our counterterrorism efforts.

It published now for two reasons, one a typical media convention and the other to beat its own reporter to the scoop. With the Patriot Act up for renewal, the current headlines finally provided a political context that would make this story a blockbuster -- not because it describes illegal activity, but because it plays into the fears the Left have of the rise of an Orwellian Big Brother government from the Bush administration. Ironically, this comes less than a month after the same newspapers giving this story red headlines provided breathless coverage to the 9/11 Commission's "report card" on the government's progress on counterterrorism -- which condemned the White House and Congress for not doing enough to protect Americans from attack.

The second impetus to publish came from the upcoming release of James Risen's book, "State of War", due to be released in less than a month. The story would lose its impact and the Times would lose its investment in the development of it if the book came out first. Also, it doesn't hurt to have its reporter on the best-seller list, and the explosive nature of this leak will almost certainly propel the upcoming Risen tome to the top of those lists, at least briefly.

Once again, what we have is nothing more than a manipulative effort by the Gray Lady in particular and the national media in general to paint the administration in the most unflattering light. Almost none of the coverage provided so far includes the data that Risen and Lichtblau reported on the international nature of the calls, the identification of the targets through other intelligence, and continuous involvement of Congressional leaders. In other words, the only people who should find this of concern are those who want to kill Americans in droves, and thanks to the NYT and its leakers, they now know about that effort.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 17, 2005 10:42 AM

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» Investigate the Leaks from Myopic Zeal
Once again, we have a leak of national security information. I’m waiting for the New York Times to call for an investigation into the leakers with the enthusiasm that they did with those who “outed” Plame. Bush tells it like it is ... [Read More]

Tracked on December 17, 2005 2:44 PM


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