« Terrorists Use Crank Calls To Soldiers' Families | Main | Kerry Splits Democrats With Renewed Presidential Aspirations »
Bill Keller, having fled the scene according to his office as soon as the New York Times published the latest national-security revelations from Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, offers his readers a written explanation rather than give any interviews about his decision to reveal classified tactics. Unfortunately for Times readers, he doesn't offer much in the way of explanation in his open letter. Keller manages to dodge the real questions while actually blaming conservative critics for making this a bigger story than he imagined when he green-lighted it for publication.
The pushback against the right comes as his first excuse:
Some of the incoming mail quotes the angry words of conservative bloggers and TV or radio pundits who say that drawing attention to the government's anti-terror measures is unpatriotic and dangerous. (I could ask, if that's the case, why they are drawing so much attention to the story themselves by yelling about it on the airwaves and the Internet.)
One has to go far before seeing a more disingenuous argument than this from any publisher or editor. It insults the intelligence, because Keller would have you believe that a front-page story in the New York Times would never have garnered any attention had it not been for conservative bloggers and talk-show hosts. Granted, if Keller remains in charge of the Times it may eventually come to that. However, Keller's argument appears to be that criticism of publication of classified material creates a larger national-security problem than the publication itself.
He then offers the standard platitudes about the role of a free press in democracy, and the heavy responsibility that he felt in making this decision. What he doesn't explain at all is the competing interests of the public right to know and the government responsibility for security, a decision that really shouldn't rest at the Times in any case. Oh, he thinks he explains it, but he leaves out a critical point:
It's not our job to pass judgment on whether this program is legal or effective, but the story cites strong arguments from proponents that this is the case. While some experts familiar with the program have doubts about its legality, which has never been tested in the courts, and while some bank officials worry that a temporary program has taken on an air of permanence, we cited considerable evidence that the program helps catch and prosecute financers of terror, and we have not identified any serious abuses of privacy so far. A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don't know about it.
Rather than discuss the non-secret fact that the government has infiltrated global financial systems to track terrorists -- a fact known by even the most detached American for the past four years -- but that the Times revealed the specific tactics used to track financial transactions. This would be akin to printing planned troop movements during a battle. It tips the enemy to our efforts against them, and allows them to take steps to avoid our reach.
Evem more to the point, Keller admits in this paragraph that the program he revealed is both legal and effective. Since the only real news value in blowing a covert operation is when it is either illegal or detrimental, the mind boggles at Keller's admission. If the Swift penetration broke no laws, which Risen and Lichtblau admitted, and effective, as the capture of Hamali demonstrated, then why should the New York Times publish the tactics on its front page? How can he argue that he balanced the news value against national security when a legal and effective covert operation has almost no news value whatsoever outside of sheer prurience?
As Wizbang points out, the entire Keller argument boils down to this:
1) We have no reason to believe the program was illegal in any way.
2) We have every reason to believe it was effective at catching terrorists.
3) We ran the story anyway, screw you.
I would add a fourth bullet point stating that the New York Times thinks its readers suffer from some form of brain damage if Keller thinks this letter explains any of the issues raised by their publication of this material. They have revealed the specific tactics of an effective covert program during a time of war, a program that has actually caught terrorists, and admits that its revelation neither shows it to break laws or threaten civil liberties. They sold us out for the money and used the excuse of a public right to know, the same excuse that gives us paparazzi shots of half-naked celebrities on the covers of supermarket tabloids. That is the Bill Keller legacy to journalism and the New York Times.
Who would have thought we'd get nostalgic for Howell Raines?
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has a substantive roundup of reaction to Keller's letter. CQ readers should read Patterico's transcript of a radio interview between LA Times columnist Patt Morrison and Washington bureau chief Doyle McManus on their decision to run the story concurrently with Keller and the NYT. Money quote:
MCMANUS: ... So, it’s — this is a broader issue than an individual operation. In any case, we take the question seriously of whether our disclosure of this policy change and this program will be to the disadvantage of legitimate government efforts against terrorism, and we have to weigh that against the legitimate public interest in knowing whether the government is changing the rules, knowing whether the government is operating within the law, um, knowing what the government is up to.”
It does not fall to the Times to make that decision, especially when no laws have been broken -- as the NYT explicitly reported. The government (all three branches) , by the way, makes the rules; we elect them to do that. We don't elect the LAT or the NYT to arrogantly decide whether those laws have value or not. If they change the rules, we elect them to do that, too. As both newspapers reported endlessly in the wake of 9/11, a lot of rules needed changing in order to effectively protect us against the terrorists that want to kill us.
Didn't we demand that of Congress and the White House? If so, why did the Fourth Estate decide to blow covert tactics that worked within the law to do just that?
UPDATE II: I should have pointed people to the best takedown of Keller thus far, not surprisingly by Hugh Hewitt. My good friend Scott Johnson at Power Line has an excellent rebuttal as well. Don't miss either one.Sphere It View blog reactions
TrackBack URL for this entry is
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Keller Offers Platitudes Rather Than Reasons:
» Defending The Times from It Shines For All
Hugh Hewitt (via Powerline) writes that "the NYT's Executive Editor Bill Keller refuses interviews but does provide a wholly unpersuasive reponse that is, at best, defensive posturing." Meantime, the AP reports that "The chairman of the House Homeland ... [Read More]
Tracked on June 26, 2006 8:22 AM
» The NY Times Responds from Stop The ACLU
New York Times Editor Bill Keller responded to the tons of email and letters of anger that were sent to them over revealing National Security issues. A secondary argument against publishing the banking story was that publication would lead terrorist... [Read More]
Tracked on June 26, 2006 9:01 AM
» Why Does Bill Keller Want Me To Become Dead from PostWatch
I just don't get it. Clay Waters at Timeswatch, sure. But I don't even blog about the New York Times most days, and yet New York Times Editor Bill Keller wants me dead, otherwise he wouldn't keep publishing national security [Read More]
Tracked on June 26, 2006 9:46 AM
» It Is Beat Up On Bill Keller Day from Fly At Night
Bill Keller is the executive editor of the New York Times (The Times). He is the “editor responsible for the difficult decision to publish that story”. Keller is a busy man. Keller makes a lot of money while managing a company whose stock has b... [Read More]
Tracked on June 26, 2006 10:44 AM
» Keller is well-pummeled; you don’t need me! from The Anchoress
My email box has been loading up with an unusual number of folks wondering why I have been writing so little, lately, or why I am not running to write about the big stories of the day but am concentrating on silly commercials and such. Well, partly i... [Read More]
Tracked on June 26, 2006 11:07 AM
» Prez slams leak of financial transaction monitoring story from Sister Toldjah
Go get ‘em, tiger: WASHINGTON - President Bush on Monday sharply condemned the disclosure of a program to secretly monitor the financial transactions of suspected terrorists. “The disclosure of this program is disgraceful,” he said. ... [Read More]
Tracked on June 26, 2006 11:37 AM
» A War Against The War Goes On from RobertMcNickle.com
Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, wrote a letter in response to the email the Times has been getting over the Times' publication of details of the international banking transaction tracking program that the United States [Read More]
Tracked on June 26, 2006 12:06 PM
» Letter From Bill Keller from Don Singleton
So the terrorists will know what we are doing to stop them, and so that they can change their approach and hopefully be able to launch some more attacks on this country, which we at the NYT hope will totally discredit the Republicans, and so that we ... [Read More]
Tracked on June 26, 2006 2:03 PM
» The Treasonous Times Must Be Prosecuted! from PartisanTimes.com
The New York Times has once again escalated its Journalistic Jihad against the American people, proving beyond all doubt that the Times' personal interests violently clash with America's public interest. On Friday, the NY Times broke the story of Ameica's [Read More]
Tracked on June 26, 2006 2:19 PM
» Treasury Department Secretary Responds To The New York Times from The World According To Carl
John W. Snow, U.S. Department of the Treasury Secretary, has written a very good letter to the editors of the New York Times specifically Managing Editor Bill Keller effectively refuting Keller's assertions in his recent op-ed piece claiming, among oth... [Read More]
Tracked on June 27, 2006 7:18 AM
» Excuses, Excuses from Hard Starboard
Bill Keller is a liar and a traitor, and his letter can and should be summed up as Wizbang did: Dear Reader: 1) We have no reason to believe the program was illegal in any way. 2) We have every reason to believe it was effective at catching ... [Read More]
Tracked on July 2, 2006 1:11 AM
My Other Blog!
Comment Moderation Policy - Please Read!
Skin The Site
Des Moines Register
International Herald Tribune
The Weekly Standard
The New Republic
AP News (Yahoo! Headlines)
Guardian Unlimited (UK)
New York Times
Los Angeles Times
- dave on Another National Health Care System Horror Story
- brooklyn on Hillary Not Hsu Happy
- rbj on Hillary Not Hsu Happy
- Robin S on Requiem For A Betrayed Hero
- Ken on Hillary Not Hsu Happy
- Robin S. on Requiem For A Betrayed Hero
- RBMN on Hillary Not Hsu Happy
- NoDonkey on Another National Health Care System Horror Story
- Robin Munn on Fred Thompson Interview Transcript
- filistro on When Exactly Did Art Die?
Proud Ex-Pat Member of the Bear Flag League!