Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bill Keller

Secrecy, National Security, and the Case of John Kiriakou

Scott Shane of the New York Times has written a long and somewhat awkward article about the indictment, plea bargain, and federal prison sentencing of former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Long, because the story is complicated, and Shane must recount about a decade’s worth of national security history and policy to get us from A to Z. Awkward, because Shane is a prominent element in the federal indictment against Kiriakou.

At the heart of this case is information Kiriakou provided to Shane for a story, and to another reporter for a second story. We often see such stories play out through a drama in which reporters protect their sources and risk jail time to do so. But in this case, Shane could not protect Kiriakou, nor was it at all clear that Kiriakou would have needed such protection. Kiriakou became a minor media star in 2007 when he spoke out about the agency’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding. Kiriakou defended the decision to waterboard in 2002 (“I think the second-guessing of 2002 decisions is unfair,” he told Shane) but was against the practice going forward. Shane asked Kiriakou about another CIA officer. Kiriakou said he knew the officer, and that the two had worked together in pursuit of Abu Zubaydah. The officer never agreed to talk to Shane, and had never been undercover. But Kiriakou’s email to Shane turned up in the indictment against him for revealing the identity of an agent.

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Scott Shane of the New York Times has written a long and somewhat awkward article about the indictment, plea bargain, and federal prison sentencing of former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Long, because the story is complicated, and Shane must recount about a decade’s worth of national security history and policy to get us from A to Z. Awkward, because Shane is a prominent element in the federal indictment against Kiriakou.

At the heart of this case is information Kiriakou provided to Shane for a story, and to another reporter for a second story. We often see such stories play out through a drama in which reporters protect their sources and risk jail time to do so. But in this case, Shane could not protect Kiriakou, nor was it at all clear that Kiriakou would have needed such protection. Kiriakou became a minor media star in 2007 when he spoke out about the agency’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding. Kiriakou defended the decision to waterboard in 2002 (“I think the second-guessing of 2002 decisions is unfair,” he told Shane) but was against the practice going forward. Shane asked Kiriakou about another CIA officer. Kiriakou said he knew the officer, and that the two had worked together in pursuit of Abu Zubaydah. The officer never agreed to talk to Shane, and had never been undercover. But Kiriakou’s email to Shane turned up in the indictment against him for revealing the identity of an agent.

Kiriakou is accused of revealing the name of that agent to Shane and one other agent to a different reporter. There are obvious questions here about the nature of the reporter-source relationship. Neither man in this case thought he was doing something unlawful or unethical. Nothing came of the disclosure. As Max wrote with regard to the scandal surrounding David Petraeus, some information remains officially classified or secret long after it has been revealed in the media. Thus, such information becomes common knowledge, yet discussing it is not decriminalized. The decision to investigate and prosecute such conversations, then, can smack of political motivation–all the more so for someone like Kiriakou, who became an uncommonly public figure for a CIA agent by leaving the agency and going public with his opinions about the CIA’s methods.

However, Shane remains an interested party here, with a clear preference for Kiriakou’s exoneration, both legally and personally, since Shane wants continued access to such sources and a clear conscience to do so. Thus, Shane’s readers will be subject to justifications and false choices that conveniently absolve him of guilt. In that vein, Shane writes on the Obama administration’s increased push for combating leaks it sees as unhelpful to the White House:

The resulting chill on officials’ willingness to talk is deplored by journalists and advocates of open government; without leaks, they note, Americans might never have learned about the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods or the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping. But for supporters of greater secrecy, the chill is precisely the goal.

This is, clearly, an overly simplistic view of the issue. First of all, not all leaks are created equal: some are legal and others break federal law. Second, some leaks are clearly damaging to national security, and thus put Americans in unnecessary danger. Some don’t. The press coverage of Washington is built around the use of leaks and unnamed sources, much of which is perfectly legal. The Times takes this practice to such an obsessive degree that reading the Times, one often expects to hear the week’s weather forecast followed by “according to an unnamed satellite who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he has not been authorized by the sun to discuss these matters.”

A good example of a damaging leak is the New York Times’s decision to publish in 2006 the details of a highly successful secret program used by the government to track the finances of terrorist activity. The program was legal and constitutional, but the Times saw an opportunity to damage the Bush administration’s national security efforts, and took it—safety of Americans be damned. Democrats and Republicans, experts and officials, pleaded with then-Times Executive Editor Bill Keller not to publish the story. Keller ignored them.

The point here is that neither the government nor the crusading journalist is always right. Rather, they both err in judgment or in law—and sometimes both. Shane asked a source for information that would land the source in a federal prison and nearly bankrupt his family, costing his wife her job as well. So the neat categories into which Shane seeks to divide the voices in this scandal are understandable, but that doesn’t make them any less mistaken or self-serving.

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Keller Hopes for a “Liberated Obama”

In an article yesterday, placed prominently in the center of the New York Times op-ed page, Bill Keller wrote that if he were faced with only two choices — (a) Iran with a bomb, or (b) bombing Iran — he would “swallow hard” and live with a nuclear Iran.

It is not clear from his op-ed why any swallowing would be involved on his part: in his view: (1) it is “hard to believe the aim of an Iranian nuclear program is the extermination of Israel;” (2) the worry about a regional nuclear arms race is “probably an exaggerated fear;” and (3) “history suggests that nuclear weapons make even aggressive countries more cautious.” It seems like an easy choice for him.

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In an article yesterday, placed prominently in the center of the New York Times op-ed page, Bill Keller wrote that if he were faced with only two choices — (a) Iran with a bomb, or (b) bombing Iran — he would “swallow hard” and live with a nuclear Iran.

It is not clear from his op-ed why any swallowing would be involved on his part: in his view: (1) it is “hard to believe the aim of an Iranian nuclear program is the extermination of Israel;” (2) the worry about a regional nuclear arms race is “probably an exaggerated fear;” and (3) “history suggests that nuclear weapons make even aggressive countries more cautious.” It seems like an easy choice for him.

Nevertheless, Keller concludes that we should “focus all of our intelligence and energy” on a third approach: cutting a deal with Iran. It is amazing no one has thought of this idea before; perhaps we should give it a try for four years.

Keller believes that “of course, [a deal] won’t happen before November,” because Republicans would point out “the abandonment of Israel” in favor of a regime “that recently beat a democracy movement bloody” –  and American voters would react negatively. But Keller hopes “a liberated Obama” would do it thereafter. Keller seems to have absorbed the message that this is Obama’s last election, and that he can be more flexible after he’s re-elected.

The tragedy of the current situation is that, because the U.S. will not set a deadline or a redline, a U.S. ally is faced with an existential decision that may have to be made sooner rather than later. Articles such as Keller’s may lead it to conclude that its own deadline is November.

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Bill Keller, Political Hypocrite

How difficult it must be to be a liberal who has double standards to explain and hypocrisies to defend. Take Bill Keller of the New York Times. Last August the former executive editor of the Times wrote a piece in which he prodded his colleagues in journalism to ask candidates “tougher questions about faith.” If the Republican candidates didn’t answer Keller’s questions, “let’s keep on asking,” Keller said. “Because these are matters too important to take on faith.”

Of course, there was the inconvenient fact that the Times showed a notable lack of interest when it came to Barack Obama’s 20-year relationship with Jeremiah Wright, a minister whose views are racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-American. And for those Times readers who might have forgotten – and given the paucity of coverage by the Times, who could blame them? — the Reverend Wright was referred to by Obama as his “spiritual mentor,” Wright married Barack and Michelle Obama, baptized their children, inspired the title of Obama’s first autobiography.

Yet in 2008, the Times found all of this singularly uninteresting. It looked the other way. Read More

How difficult it must be to be a liberal who has double standards to explain and hypocrisies to defend. Take Bill Keller of the New York Times. Last August the former executive editor of the Times wrote a piece in which he prodded his colleagues in journalism to ask candidates “tougher questions about faith.” If the Republican candidates didn’t answer Keller’s questions, “let’s keep on asking,” Keller said. “Because these are matters too important to take on faith.”

Of course, there was the inconvenient fact that the Times showed a notable lack of interest when it came to Barack Obama’s 20-year relationship with Jeremiah Wright, a minister whose views are racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-American. And for those Times readers who might have forgotten – and given the paucity of coverage by the Times, who could blame them? — the Reverend Wright was referred to by Obama as his “spiritual mentor,” Wright married Barack and Michelle Obama, baptized their children, inspired the title of Obama’s first autobiography.

Yet in 2008, the Times found all of this singularly uninteresting. It looked the other way.

When this was pointed out to Keller in the aftermath of his newfound interest in asking tough question about the faith of GOP candidates, Keller (via Twitter) admitted, “Yes, Dems should be asked about their faith (and influences) too. We were late to Rev. Wright in ’08, but we got there, and did it well.”

How convenient to admit this three years after the election. And in fact, the Times got there much later than they would have if John McCain had been a member of a church whose pastor was spouting white supremacist views from the pulpit – and once its reporters eventually got there, they actually didn’t do it so well.

In any event, Jeremiah Wright is once again in the news – this time because of a Times story that was clearly designed to keep a super PAC from injecting Wright into the 2012 race. (The detailed advertising plan that was obtained by the Times came through a person not connected to the proposal but “who was alarmed by its tone.”) I guess we’re back into the “asking tough questions about a political candidate’s faith is wrong and inappropriate” mode.

Once again, the New York Times is using its influence to discourage a close examination of the Obama-Wright relationship. And just to be sure the point wasn’t lost on us, a Times editorial, with the subtle title “Racial Politics, 2012-Style,” praises John McCain for refusing “to make this divisive tactic part of his campaign against Mr. Obama.” But, we’re told, “in a more coarsened political atmosphere, the rise of unlimited money has made it possible for a wealthy person to broadcast any attack while keeping a distance from it.” This is all part of a general effort by those on the right to “pollute the campaign.” And so forth and so on.

I can hardly wait for Bill Keller to show his objectivity and independent judgment by writing another long article on why it’s absolutely essential for journalists to ask tough questions about faith. And this time we can look forward to him and the Times exploring — with newly discovered depth, intensity, and a commitment to “afflict the powerful” – Barack Obama’s relationship with the Reverend Wright, the essential elements of black liberation theology, and a plausible explanation for how Obama could have spent 20 years in Wright’s church and held him up as a “spiritual mentor” without sharing, or at least being comfortable with, Wright’s noxious views and hate-filled sentiments. Because if such an article doesn’t appear, many of us will be tempted to draw the conclusion that Bill Keller is not much more than a political hypocrite dressed up as a Serious Journalist.

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Mainstream Media’s Pose of Fairness is the Real Poison in American Journalism

The New York Times’ former reputation as the nation’s objective newspaper of record was always a façade that covered up a persistent liberal bias that skewed its coverage of both politics and the world. But during the eight years that Bill Keller served as executive editor, the Times accelerated its descent into the partisan and hyper-liberal biased reporting and unbalanced opinion pages that we now take for granted as the paper’s calling card. Keller’s liberal prejudices were never a secret while he was the paper’s editor and in his current guise as a weekly opinion columnist, the last veil has dropped. But even now, he can’t seem to give up the pose of being the professional journalist who is too busy getting the story right to inject his politics into the copy.

This is the principal conceit of his latest column in which he commits the unpardonable sin of trying to shoot a fish in a barrel and missing. By taking aim at Rupert Murdoch — the easiest target in the world this week — Keller only manages to call more attention to his own partisanship and hypocrisy. His point is that Murdoch’s creation Fox News and its conservative bias is “America’s poison,” and claims that for all of its flaws, the mainstream media is still far more fair and balanced than the network that uses that phrase to describe itself. But the idea that Fox is any more biased than the Times, let alone NBC, CNN or NPR — the examples he cites of other more objective outlets — is absurd.

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The New York Times’ former reputation as the nation’s objective newspaper of record was always a façade that covered up a persistent liberal bias that skewed its coverage of both politics and the world. But during the eight years that Bill Keller served as executive editor, the Times accelerated its descent into the partisan and hyper-liberal biased reporting and unbalanced opinion pages that we now take for granted as the paper’s calling card. Keller’s liberal prejudices were never a secret while he was the paper’s editor and in his current guise as a weekly opinion columnist, the last veil has dropped. But even now, he can’t seem to give up the pose of being the professional journalist who is too busy getting the story right to inject his politics into the copy.

This is the principal conceit of his latest column in which he commits the unpardonable sin of trying to shoot a fish in a barrel and missing. By taking aim at Rupert Murdoch — the easiest target in the world this week — Keller only manages to call more attention to his own partisanship and hypocrisy. His point is that Murdoch’s creation Fox News and its conservative bias is “America’s poison,” and claims that for all of its flaws, the mainstream media is still far more fair and balanced than the network that uses that phrase to describe itself. But the idea that Fox is any more biased than the Times, let alone NBC, CNN or NPR — the examples he cites of other more objective outlets — is absurd.

The only evidence he gives for what he considers the obvious superiority of the non-Fox liberal media is that the Times Sunday Magazine once published an even-handed profile of Rush Limbaugh by Zev Chafets. He says such a fair-minded piece about Nancy Pelosi would never have run on Fox. He also thinks it is terrible that Fox News head Roger Ailes didn’t cooperate with a liberal trying to write his biography and that it takes a dim view of employees who leak material in order to embarrass the company.

The problem with this argument is that the Chafets profile is merely the exception that proves the rule at the Times. While there are occasional instances of fairness, they merely highlight the paper’s typical unfairness to anyone or any group that it opposes. The comparison is also ridiculous because most of Fox’s programming is the moral equivalent to the Times’ editorial and op-ed pages. There the analogy between the two is almost exact. Liberal voices are a distinct minority on Fox but no more so than genuine conservatives at the Times.

If anything, a comparison of the airtime that Fox devotes to straight news coverage to the Times’ news pages is actually quite flattering to the former. While Fox’s news hounds may not be perfectly objective one wonders if they have ever committed any journalistic sin so blatant as the Times’ decision just this past Friday to run a front page news feature on racism directed at President Obama in Ohio whose only possible point was to try to rally liberals around the incumbent lest hate triumph. Nor can I recall Fox’s news operation ever doing anything as despicable or lacking in ethics as Keller’s decision to publish a major expose of John McCain’s personal life at the height of the 2008 presidential campaign that lacked any proof of the wrongdoing the piece insinuated.

Even after all these years, Keller and other liberals still don’t understand why Fox is popular. Along with conservative talk radio, it was created to balance the obvious bias of a mainstream media that pretended it had no bias. Audiences despise the pretense and appreciate Fox’s straightforward point of view. That’s why, as I wrote this past week, CNN, whose dishonesty about its liberal bias is as obvious as that of the Times, is the loser in the cable rating wars.

No one should fault Keller for his liberalism. It is his pretense of fairness that is galling. His claims about Fox’s faults can be just as easily directed at the Times. The real poison at the heart of American journalism isn’t Fox, it’s the mainstream media’s false front of objectivity.

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The New York Times in the Age of Gawker

In a previous post on WikiLeaks, I suggested that if the New York Times is serious about its commitment to openness, it should publish its own deliberations for all to see. A further thought occurred to me: What, I ask myself, would I have done if I were the editor of a major publication that had been given access to a trove of stolen New York Times documents? I suppose it depends on what was in them. If they revealed malfeasance at the Times (e.g., deliberate publication of false information or providing coverage in return for payoffs or rampant plagiarism), I would probably publish them.

But there is nothing like that in the documents WikiLeaks has so far uncovered. They provide evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and others — but not the U.S. government. At least as far as I know. What then would I do with documents of great gossip value but little news value? I suppose it depends on which publication I worked for. If it were a gossip site like Gawker, no doubt I would gleefully publish the Times documents for sheer embarrassment value — and to get attention for myself. But what if I were the editor of a responsible, serious news organ? Then I would return the documents to Times editor Bill Keller on the principle that “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” In days past, the Times fancied itself the most responsible and serious of publications. Today, alas, it seems to have sunk to the level of Gawker.

In a previous post on WikiLeaks, I suggested that if the New York Times is serious about its commitment to openness, it should publish its own deliberations for all to see. A further thought occurred to me: What, I ask myself, would I have done if I were the editor of a major publication that had been given access to a trove of stolen New York Times documents? I suppose it depends on what was in them. If they revealed malfeasance at the Times (e.g., deliberate publication of false information or providing coverage in return for payoffs or rampant plagiarism), I would probably publish them.

But there is nothing like that in the documents WikiLeaks has so far uncovered. They provide evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and others — but not the U.S. government. At least as far as I know. What then would I do with documents of great gossip value but little news value? I suppose it depends on which publication I worked for. If it were a gossip site like Gawker, no doubt I would gleefully publish the Times documents for sheer embarrassment value — and to get attention for myself. But what if I were the editor of a responsible, serious news organ? Then I would return the documents to Times editor Bill Keller on the principle that “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” In days past, the Times fancied itself the most responsible and serious of publications. Today, alas, it seems to have sunk to the level of Gawker.

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Challenge to the New York Times: Publish Your Internal Correspondence

Reading the New York Times’s “Note to Readers” explaining why it has decided once again to act as a journalistic enabler of WikiLeaks, I wondered why, if the Times believes that openness is so important to the operations of the U.S. government, that same logic doesn’t apply to the newspaper itself. The Times, after all, is still, despite its loss of influence in the Internet age, the leading newspaper in the U.S. and indeed the world. It still shakes governments, shapes opinions, and moves markets, even if it doesn’t do so as often or as much as it used to.

Imagine if the stentorian language employed by the Times were turned on itself. The editors write that

the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times? Isn’t it important for us to learn “the unvarnished story” of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents? Sure, we know the official explanation — it’s in the newspaper. But what happened behind the scenes? Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading? Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks. Read More

Reading the New York Times’s “Note to Readers” explaining why it has decided once again to act as a journalistic enabler of WikiLeaks, I wondered why, if the Times believes that openness is so important to the operations of the U.S. government, that same logic doesn’t apply to the newspaper itself. The Times, after all, is still, despite its loss of influence in the Internet age, the leading newspaper in the U.S. and indeed the world. It still shakes governments, shapes opinions, and moves markets, even if it doesn’t do so as often or as much as it used to.

Imagine if the stentorian language employed by the Times were turned on itself. The editors write that

the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times? Isn’t it important for us to learn “the unvarnished story” of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents? Sure, we know the official explanation — it’s in the newspaper. But what happened behind the scenes? Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading? Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks.

Actually, let’s make our document request broader: the Times should share with the world all its internal correspondence going back years. That would include, of course, memos that disclose the identity of anonymous sources, including sources who may have risked their lives to reveal information to Times reporters. Of course, just as it does with government documents, we would give the Times the privilege of redacting a few names and facts — at least in a few of the versions that are published on the Internet.

My suspicion — call it a hunch — is that the Times won’t accept my modest suggestion. Their position, in effect, is “secrecy for me but not for thee.” But why? Can the Times editors possibly argue with a straight face that their deliberations are more important and more privileged than the work of our soldiers and diplomats? No doubt the editors can see all the damage that releasing their own documents would do — it would have a chilling effect on internal discourse and on the willingness of sources to share information with Times reporters. But they seem blind to the fact that precisely the same damage is being done to the United States government with consequences potentially far more momentous.

The most persuasive argument the Times has made is that “most of these documents will be made public regardless of what The Times decides.” That’s true, but that doesn’t eradicate the Times’s responsibility for choosing to act as a press agent and megaphone for WikiLeaks. When in 1942 the Chicago Tribune published an article making clear that the U.S. had broken Japanese codes before the Battle of Midway, other newspapers did not rush to hype the scoop. They let it pass with virtually no notice, and the Japanese may never have become aware of the disclosure. Imagine if a similar attitude were shown today by so-called responsible media organs. How many people would really go to the WikiLeaks website to trawl through hundreds of thousands of memoranda? Some harm would undoubtedly still result from WikiLeaks’s action, but it would be far less than when mainstream media organs amplify Wikileaks’s irresponsible disclosures.

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Another Plagiarist at the New York Times

What could be worse for the Gray Lady than yet another plagiarist? They have had their cheating problems, of course. Jayson Blair fabricated stories. Maureen Dowd fabricated excuses. And now they have another. To make matters worse, their archrival, the irritatingly successful Wall Street Journal (owned by the dark prince of conservative media, Rupert Murdoch), ratted out the New York Times phony:

On Friday, Feb. 12, Robert Thomson, the editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal wrote Times executive editor Bill Keller to inform him of “apparent plagiarism in The New York Times.”

In the letter, Mr. Thomson cites six examples of material where he believes Times reporter Zachery Kouwe plagiarized Journal reporter Amir Efrati from a story that was published on Feb. 5.

The Times fessed up, but avoided the “P” word:

In a number of business articles in The Times over the past year, and in posts on the DealBook blog on NYTimes.com, a Times reporter appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations.

The reporter, Zachery Kouwe, reused language from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other sources without attribution or acknowledgment.

The Times concedes that this is a serious matter and says cryptically that it “remains under investigation.” But why should anything happen to the literary kleptomaniac, Kouwe? Nothing happened to Dowd. She came up with a silly excuse that not even Clark Hoyt would buy. She’s still there, churning out (up?) bile twice a week. And then there is the ongoing question as to how such august publications as the Times, the Washington Post, and the New Republic attract the likes of Blair, Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, and their ilk. It seems as though between the fakes and the “avoiding the news that’s bad for the Left” problem, these outfits have a bit of a quality-control issue.

In any case, Mr. Kouwe, I think, has a handy argument in his favor should he be fired: why is Dowd still there if plagiarism is such a big deal at the Times?

What could be worse for the Gray Lady than yet another plagiarist? They have had their cheating problems, of course. Jayson Blair fabricated stories. Maureen Dowd fabricated excuses. And now they have another. To make matters worse, their archrival, the irritatingly successful Wall Street Journal (owned by the dark prince of conservative media, Rupert Murdoch), ratted out the New York Times phony:

On Friday, Feb. 12, Robert Thomson, the editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal wrote Times executive editor Bill Keller to inform him of “apparent plagiarism in The New York Times.”

In the letter, Mr. Thomson cites six examples of material where he believes Times reporter Zachery Kouwe plagiarized Journal reporter Amir Efrati from a story that was published on Feb. 5.

The Times fessed up, but avoided the “P” word:

In a number of business articles in The Times over the past year, and in posts on the DealBook blog on NYTimes.com, a Times reporter appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations.

The reporter, Zachery Kouwe, reused language from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other sources without attribution or acknowledgment.

The Times concedes that this is a serious matter and says cryptically that it “remains under investigation.” But why should anything happen to the literary kleptomaniac, Kouwe? Nothing happened to Dowd. She came up with a silly excuse that not even Clark Hoyt would buy. She’s still there, churning out (up?) bile twice a week. And then there is the ongoing question as to how such august publications as the Times, the Washington Post, and the New Republic attract the likes of Blair, Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, and their ilk. It seems as though between the fakes and the “avoiding the news that’s bad for the Left” problem, these outfits have a bit of a quality-control issue.

In any case, Mr. Kouwe, I think, has a handy argument in his favor should he be fired: why is Dowd still there if plagiarism is such a big deal at the Times?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Clark Hoyt’s “attempt to placate the barking cadre of anti-Israel watchdogs” by suggesting that the Gray Lady’s Jerusalem bureau chief be sacked because his son is in the Israeli army comes to naught. Executive editor Bill Keller — yes, a broken clock is right twice a day — says Ethan Bronner can stay put.

Jay Nordlinger reminds us that Sarah Palin is one of the few politicians to say she “loves” Israel.

Sounds like a joke: the Obami’s terrorism policies are so untenable, even MSNBC reporters don’t buy the White House spin any more. But it’s true.

Steven Calabresi is fed up with the excuse-mongering: “The Obama Administration’s claims that ‘Bush did it too’ sound pathetic coming from a President who won election by promising to be an agent of change and hope who would alter our politics and the way things are done in Washington. … Is Miranda any less stupid because prior presidents have implemented it rather than pushing the Supreme Court to scrap the decision? The claim that ‘Bush did it too’ sounds uncomfortably like the arguments I get from my grade school children when I correct them for having done something wrong.”

And speaking of change, Bill Kristol writes: “Perhaps embracing the concept of  ‘regime change’ spooks the Obama administration. It’s awfully reminiscent of George W. Bush. But one great failure of the Bush administration was its second-term fecklessness with respect to Iran. Bush kicked the Iran can down the road. Does Obama want an achievement that eluded Bush? Regime change in Iran — that would be an Obama administration achievement that Joe Biden, and the rest of us, could really celebrate.”

Andy McCarthy explains why the Richard Reid case is a poor example for the Obami to cite in justifying its criminal-justice approach to terrorism. “When Reid tried to blow up his airliner, 9/11 had just happened. We had not spent eight years grappling with the question of how international terrorists who carry out attacks in the United States should be dealt with. It is important to remember that there was no military-commission system in place when Reid was captured. President Bush had issued the executive order authorizing the Defense Department to set up the system, but that had not been done yet. It wasn’t ready until March 2002.”

What a difference a year makes: “After miserable House elections in ’06 and ’08 saw the GOP virtually disappear in the northeast, it was hard not to write the party’s obituary in the region. No GOPers were left standing in New England, and just 3 remained in the 29-member NY delegation. It only worsened in ’09, when the GOP failed to hold a rural sprawling CD in upstate NY, dropping its representation in the state to just 2 members. But evidence suggests that the ’10 wave that’s building for the GOP could even manage to reach the untouchable Northeast.” Democrats Tim Bishop in Suffolk County and  Bill Delahunt in Massachusetts look especially vulnerable.

More than 50 percent of independents disapprove of Obama’s performance.

What would Republicans do without opponents like this? “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is rewriting a jobs bill after Democrats complained of too many concessions to Republicans. Reid announced Thursday that he would cut back on the jobs bill Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced only hours earlier, essentially overruling the powerful chairman.”

Maybe outsiders did bump off an Iranian nuclear scientist.

Clark Hoyt’s “attempt to placate the barking cadre of anti-Israel watchdogs” by suggesting that the Gray Lady’s Jerusalem bureau chief be sacked because his son is in the Israeli army comes to naught. Executive editor Bill Keller — yes, a broken clock is right twice a day — says Ethan Bronner can stay put.

Jay Nordlinger reminds us that Sarah Palin is one of the few politicians to say she “loves” Israel.

Sounds like a joke: the Obami’s terrorism policies are so untenable, even MSNBC reporters don’t buy the White House spin any more. But it’s true.

Steven Calabresi is fed up with the excuse-mongering: “The Obama Administration’s claims that ‘Bush did it too’ sound pathetic coming from a President who won election by promising to be an agent of change and hope who would alter our politics and the way things are done in Washington. … Is Miranda any less stupid because prior presidents have implemented it rather than pushing the Supreme Court to scrap the decision? The claim that ‘Bush did it too’ sounds uncomfortably like the arguments I get from my grade school children when I correct them for having done something wrong.”

And speaking of change, Bill Kristol writes: “Perhaps embracing the concept of  ‘regime change’ spooks the Obama administration. It’s awfully reminiscent of George W. Bush. But one great failure of the Bush administration was its second-term fecklessness with respect to Iran. Bush kicked the Iran can down the road. Does Obama want an achievement that eluded Bush? Regime change in Iran — that would be an Obama administration achievement that Joe Biden, and the rest of us, could really celebrate.”

Andy McCarthy explains why the Richard Reid case is a poor example for the Obami to cite in justifying its criminal-justice approach to terrorism. “When Reid tried to blow up his airliner, 9/11 had just happened. We had not spent eight years grappling with the question of how international terrorists who carry out attacks in the United States should be dealt with. It is important to remember that there was no military-commission system in place when Reid was captured. President Bush had issued the executive order authorizing the Defense Department to set up the system, but that had not been done yet. It wasn’t ready until March 2002.”

What a difference a year makes: “After miserable House elections in ’06 and ’08 saw the GOP virtually disappear in the northeast, it was hard not to write the party’s obituary in the region. No GOPers were left standing in New England, and just 3 remained in the 29-member NY delegation. It only worsened in ’09, when the GOP failed to hold a rural sprawling CD in upstate NY, dropping its representation in the state to just 2 members. But evidence suggests that the ’10 wave that’s building for the GOP could even manage to reach the untouchable Northeast.” Democrats Tim Bishop in Suffolk County and  Bill Delahunt in Massachusetts look especially vulnerable.

More than 50 percent of independents disapprove of Obama’s performance.

What would Republicans do without opponents like this? “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is rewriting a jobs bill after Democrats complained of too many concessions to Republicans. Reid announced Thursday that he would cut back on the jobs bill Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced only hours earlier, essentially overruling the powerful chairman.”

Maybe outsiders did bump off an Iranian nuclear scientist.

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Hoyt Tries To Clean Up – Again

New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt is cleaning up after another embarrassing display of journalistic bias by the Times. (Remember him? He was tasked with the job of excoriating Bill Keller and the rest of the Times editors and reporters responsible for the smear story on John McCain and the female lobbyist.) This time the subject is Reverend Wright. Hoyt writes:

While The Times was aggressive with its coverage on the Web, it was slow to fully engage the Wright story in print and angered some readers by putting opinion about it on the front page — a review by the television critic of his appearances on PBS, at an N.A.A.C.P. convention and at the National Press Club — before ever reporting in any depth what he actually said, how it squared with reality and what it might mean as Democrats ponder Obama as their potential nominee.

Hoyt traces the Times‘s repeated failures to report and analyze developments in the Wright story, despite robust coverage by other outlets. He then includes this howler:

[Bill] Keller, [Jill] Abramson and [Richard] Stevenson said they wished that more of Wright’s words had gotten into the paper. But Keller and Abramson defended the front-page review. “This was a story that was playing out on TV, and we have a reviewer who is a smart viewer,” Keller said. Abramson said, “She had a lot of interesting things to say that didn’t go over the news-opinion divide.”

It’s nice to know that the management of our paper of record sees no reason to pipe up so long as TV reporters are covering a story. One wonders, with 24/7 cable news coverage, why the Times doesn’t close up shop altogether. Prior to Hoyt’s column, this utter failure by the Times to report on the Wright story had long been discussed on numerous blogs. But better late than never, I suppose, that the Times should acknowledge its own negligence.

Isn’t it odd, though, how the mistakes made by the Times invariably tilt toward its political favorites and against those favorites’ opponents? Apparently no journalistic malpractice is grave enough to cause personnel changes at a newspaper constantly screaming about lack of accountability in government and corporations.

New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt is cleaning up after another embarrassing display of journalistic bias by the Times. (Remember him? He was tasked with the job of excoriating Bill Keller and the rest of the Times editors and reporters responsible for the smear story on John McCain and the female lobbyist.) This time the subject is Reverend Wright. Hoyt writes:

While The Times was aggressive with its coverage on the Web, it was slow to fully engage the Wright story in print and angered some readers by putting opinion about it on the front page — a review by the television critic of his appearances on PBS, at an N.A.A.C.P. convention and at the National Press Club — before ever reporting in any depth what he actually said, how it squared with reality and what it might mean as Democrats ponder Obama as their potential nominee.

Hoyt traces the Times‘s repeated failures to report and analyze developments in the Wright story, despite robust coverage by other outlets. He then includes this howler:

[Bill] Keller, [Jill] Abramson and [Richard] Stevenson said they wished that more of Wright’s words had gotten into the paper. But Keller and Abramson defended the front-page review. “This was a story that was playing out on TV, and we have a reviewer who is a smart viewer,” Keller said. Abramson said, “She had a lot of interesting things to say that didn’t go over the news-opinion divide.”

It’s nice to know that the management of our paper of record sees no reason to pipe up so long as TV reporters are covering a story. One wonders, with 24/7 cable news coverage, why the Times doesn’t close up shop altogether. Prior to Hoyt’s column, this utter failure by the Times to report on the Wright story had long been discussed on numerous blogs. But better late than never, I suppose, that the Times should acknowledge its own negligence.

Isn’t it odd, though, how the mistakes made by the Times invariably tilt toward its political favorites and against those favorites’ opponents? Apparently no journalistic malpractice is grave enough to cause personnel changes at a newspaper constantly screaming about lack of accountability in government and corporations.

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The New York Times Is Outraged

The Times is fit to be tied — about the Times. Its public editor takes Executive Editor Bill Keller to the journalistic woodshed with this blast:

The article was notable for what it did not say: It did not say what convinced the advisers that there was a romance. It did not make clear what McCain was admitting when he acknowledged behaving inappropriately — an affair or just an association with a lobbyist that could look bad. And it did not say whether Weaver, the only on-the-record source, believed there was a romance. The Times did not offer independent proof, like the text messages between Detroit’s mayor and a female aide that The Detroit Free Press disclosed recently, or the photograph of Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart’s lap.

It was not for want of trying. Four highly respected reporters in the Washington bureau worked for months on the story and were pressed repeatedly to get sources on the record and to find documentary evidence like e-mail. If McCain had been having an affair with a lobbyist seeking his help on public policy issues, and The Times had proved it, it would have been a story of unquestionable importance.

But in the absence of a smoking gun, I asked Keller why he decided to run what he had.

“If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members,” he replied. “But that was not the point of the story. The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.”

I think that ignores the scarlet elephant in the room. A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.

Well, who can argue with that? Two thousand outraged Times readers can’t be wrong. John McCain, whose professional reputation is in better shape than Bill Keller’s, has, by the way, raised more than $2M from his “The Times is after me” fundraising letter.

The Times is fit to be tied — about the Times. Its public editor takes Executive Editor Bill Keller to the journalistic woodshed with this blast:

The article was notable for what it did not say: It did not say what convinced the advisers that there was a romance. It did not make clear what McCain was admitting when he acknowledged behaving inappropriately — an affair or just an association with a lobbyist that could look bad. And it did not say whether Weaver, the only on-the-record source, believed there was a romance. The Times did not offer independent proof, like the text messages between Detroit’s mayor and a female aide that The Detroit Free Press disclosed recently, or the photograph of Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart’s lap.

It was not for want of trying. Four highly respected reporters in the Washington bureau worked for months on the story and were pressed repeatedly to get sources on the record and to find documentary evidence like e-mail. If McCain had been having an affair with a lobbyist seeking his help on public policy issues, and The Times had proved it, it would have been a story of unquestionable importance.

But in the absence of a smoking gun, I asked Keller why he decided to run what he had.

“If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members,” he replied. “But that was not the point of the story. The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.”

I think that ignores the scarlet elephant in the room. A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.

Well, who can argue with that? Two thousand outraged Times readers can’t be wrong. John McCain, whose professional reputation is in better shape than Bill Keller’s, has, by the way, raised more than $2M from his “The Times is after me” fundraising letter.

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The Election of Unintended Consequences

The New York Times is learning about unintended consequences. Having run a shoddy piece about John McCain’s supposedly questionable judgment, the paper now finds itself having to defend its own integrity.

In response to overwhelming reader disapproval, Times executive editor Bill Keller wrote:

I was surprised by how lopsided the opinion was against our decision, with readers who described themselves as independents and Democrats joining Republicans in defending Mr. McCain from what they saw as a cheap shot.

The boomerang effect of this non-scandal and the way it has redistributed sympathies recalls another recent phenomenon that unfolded this primary season: the Clintons’ failed exploitation of identity Democrats. Hillary decided that winning the Democratic nomination was a crude matter of mathematics. Getting all of the white vote and most of the Hispanic vote would do the trick, and playing on those groups’ prejudices would secure their support. She and Bill intentionally isolated the white vote, pandering to a section of the electorate they thought would somehow fear Obama’s nomination. Not only did she begin to lose support amongst blacks (which presumably, she thought she could survive), but whites and Hispanics saw the effort for what it was and were repelled. In two months time, the Clintons gave Obama heaping chunks of every demographic group.

Could it be that the McCain flap marks the beginning of the New York Times’ trip Hillaryward? Times sales are already ailing, and if the paper continues to dig in on this discredited position it won’t help matters.

As for the Democratic candidates, they should note there’s another boomerang on its return: the Iraq war. The more Obama and Hillary attempt to garner partisan credibility by distancing themselves from the war that’s being won, the worse that boomerang will sting one of them in November when McCain gets his due for always supporting the effort. The law of unintended consequences is taking no prisoners this election season.

The New York Times is learning about unintended consequences. Having run a shoddy piece about John McCain’s supposedly questionable judgment, the paper now finds itself having to defend its own integrity.

In response to overwhelming reader disapproval, Times executive editor Bill Keller wrote:

I was surprised by how lopsided the opinion was against our decision, with readers who described themselves as independents and Democrats joining Republicans in defending Mr. McCain from what they saw as a cheap shot.

The boomerang effect of this non-scandal and the way it has redistributed sympathies recalls another recent phenomenon that unfolded this primary season: the Clintons’ failed exploitation of identity Democrats. Hillary decided that winning the Democratic nomination was a crude matter of mathematics. Getting all of the white vote and most of the Hispanic vote would do the trick, and playing on those groups’ prejudices would secure their support. She and Bill intentionally isolated the white vote, pandering to a section of the electorate they thought would somehow fear Obama’s nomination. Not only did she begin to lose support amongst blacks (which presumably, she thought she could survive), but whites and Hispanics saw the effort for what it was and were repelled. In two months time, the Clintons gave Obama heaping chunks of every demographic group.

Could it be that the McCain flap marks the beginning of the New York Times’ trip Hillaryward? Times sales are already ailing, and if the paper continues to dig in on this discredited position it won’t help matters.

As for the Democratic candidates, they should note there’s another boomerang on its return: the Iraq war. The more Obama and Hillary attempt to garner partisan credibility by distancing themselves from the war that’s being won, the worse that boomerang will sting one of them in November when McCain gets his due for always supporting the effort. The law of unintended consequences is taking no prisoners this election season.

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Why Is McCain Pleased?

“In all the uproar, no one has challenged what we actually reported.” That howler was part of a statement issued yestersday by New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller. It would be true, if you did not include John McCain, his lawyer, his aides, his surrogates, the woman in question, and a large percentage of the media. The Page neatly summarized where things stood less than 24 hours after the story broke: “Paper of Record has worse day in the media than the subject of its Thursday scoop.” As a political matter, it turned some of his harshest critics into his defenders, and given Mike Huckabee’s wise move to defend McCain, the episode has hastened his reconcilliation with the Republican base.

Aside from his Chuchillian brush with the Times (“There is no greater exhilaration than being shot at without result”), McCain must have been very happy last night. The Democratic debate suggested a number of fruitful avenues for him to explore in the general election. On many points which Hillary Clinton did not or could not engage Barack Obama, McCain can and will. On earmarks, Obama will be hard pressed to grab the mantle of fiscal cheapstake from McCain. On Iraq, Obama’s curious concession that the reduced violence is a mere “tactical” victory will, of course, be met with query as to why we would retreat after both military and some political success. On Cuba, the Florida voters in particular will be interested in this response as to whether Obama would meet with Raul Castro:

I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda and on that agenda was human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time. . . And then I think it is important for us to have the direct contact not just in Cuba, but I think this principle applies generally. I’m — I recall what John F. Kennedy once said, that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. And this moment, this opportunity when Fidel Castro has finally stepped down I think is one that we should try to take advantage of.

And I suspect that McCain will do even better than Clinton on the “describe the moment that tested you the most, that moment of crisis” question.

“In all the uproar, no one has challenged what we actually reported.” That howler was part of a statement issued yestersday by New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller. It would be true, if you did not include John McCain, his lawyer, his aides, his surrogates, the woman in question, and a large percentage of the media. The Page neatly summarized where things stood less than 24 hours after the story broke: “Paper of Record has worse day in the media than the subject of its Thursday scoop.” As a political matter, it turned some of his harshest critics into his defenders, and given Mike Huckabee’s wise move to defend McCain, the episode has hastened his reconcilliation with the Republican base.

Aside from his Chuchillian brush with the Times (“There is no greater exhilaration than being shot at without result”), McCain must have been very happy last night. The Democratic debate suggested a number of fruitful avenues for him to explore in the general election. On many points which Hillary Clinton did not or could not engage Barack Obama, McCain can and will. On earmarks, Obama will be hard pressed to grab the mantle of fiscal cheapstake from McCain. On Iraq, Obama’s curious concession that the reduced violence is a mere “tactical” victory will, of course, be met with query as to why we would retreat after both military and some political success. On Cuba, the Florida voters in particular will be interested in this response as to whether Obama would meet with Raul Castro:

I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda and on that agenda was human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time. . . And then I think it is important for us to have the direct contact not just in Cuba, but I think this principle applies generally. I’m — I recall what John F. Kennedy once said, that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. And this moment, this opportunity when Fidel Castro has finally stepped down I think is one that we should try to take advantage of.

And I suspect that McCain will do even better than Clinton on the “describe the moment that tested you the most, that moment of crisis” question.

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Loose Lips Sink Newspapers

Finally, action. A federal prosecutor has issued a subpoena to James Risen of the New York Times, one of two reporters at the paper who compromised the National Security Agency’s (NSA) Terrorist Surveillance Program in December 2005.

Risen himself does not appear to be under investigation. Indeed, prosecutors do not appear to be investigating the NSA leak at this moment. Rather, they are seeking the confidential sources that led to the disclosure of an entirely different secret, one that did not appear in Risen’s newspaper, but only in a chapter of Risen’s book, State of War. It reported that the CIA had attempted to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program and described a number of other highly classified details about covert efforts in that area.

Why is this investigation proceeding now? Connecting the Dots has no inside information. But Connecting the Dots was seated at the same table as Michael Mukasey and his wife at two dinners in the last three years, back when the future Attorney General was still a mere federal judge. The leaks in the New York Times did not come up for discussion, but Mukasey made plain he was a close reader of COMMENTARY.

Did he read a certain article in COMMENTARY entitled Has the New York Times Violated the Espionage Act? That’s a question James Risen — and Bill Keller, too — should be thinking about.

Finally, action. A federal prosecutor has issued a subpoena to James Risen of the New York Times, one of two reporters at the paper who compromised the National Security Agency’s (NSA) Terrorist Surveillance Program in December 2005.

Risen himself does not appear to be under investigation. Indeed, prosecutors do not appear to be investigating the NSA leak at this moment. Rather, they are seeking the confidential sources that led to the disclosure of an entirely different secret, one that did not appear in Risen’s newspaper, but only in a chapter of Risen’s book, State of War. It reported that the CIA had attempted to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program and described a number of other highly classified details about covert efforts in that area.

Why is this investigation proceeding now? Connecting the Dots has no inside information. But Connecting the Dots was seated at the same table as Michael Mukasey and his wife at two dinners in the last three years, back when the future Attorney General was still a mere federal judge. The leaks in the New York Times did not come up for discussion, but Mukasey made plain he was a close reader of COMMENTARY.

Did he read a certain article in COMMENTARY entitled Has the New York Times Violated the Espionage Act? That’s a question James Risen — and Bill Keller, too — should be thinking about.

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Widespread Warrantless Wiretapping of the American Media?

Are the internal communications of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, ABC, CBS, and NBC news routinely being intercepted and analyzed without warrants? The shocking answer is probably yes.

These news outfits all regularly collect classified information from the U.S. national- security apparatus. Some of the highly sensitive secrets they gather are put before the public, as when as in 2006 the New York Times disclosed a joint CIA-Treasury program to track al-Qaeda finances. But some secrets, the media decline to publish, making their own judgments that to do so would damage national security or imperil American lives.

But as editors deliberate about such sensitive matters, public officials may well be listening in, trying to uncover exactly what journalists know. Only they are not officials from our government.

In November 1983, Ronald Reagan issued a top-secret directive, which has now been declassified and posted on the web by the Federation of American Scientists. It explained that:

Mobile and fixed communications systems used by key U.S. Government officials in the Nation’s capital and surrounding areas are especially vulnerable to intercept and exploitation by foreign intelligence services. Information transmitted by such systems often is extremely sensitive. Even information which in isolation is unclassified can reveal highly sensitive classified information when taken in aggregate.

And Reagan imposed a solution:

To limit this aspect of the hostile intelligence threat, I direct immediate action be taken to provide secure mobile and fixed official telecommunication systems to support the U.S Government officials in the following categories.

The directive proceeded to list the various officials whose communications were to be immediately secured. We can assume, once this directive was fulfilled, that foreign intelligence agencies found it much harder to conduct electronic surveillance of the U.S. government.

But what about protecting the communications of the press?

Let’s take an editor like Bill Keller of the Times at his word when he says that his paper, in the name of safeguarding American security, only publishes a fraction of the classification information it unearths from the U.S. government.  Even if it is true, it is irrelevant.

For technologically sophisticated foreign spy outfits, like Russian and Chinese intelligence, directing antennae toward the headquarters of the Washington Post or the Washington bureau of the New York Times, or for that matter, the New Yorker — the home of that master liberator of American secrets, Seymour Hersh — would be a perfectly logical and highly fruitful move. What better way to get up-to-date assessments of high-level U.S. government deliberations? And what better way to uncover the occasional highly significant classified fact?

Is such surveillance really going on? Connecting the Dots has no direct evidence that it is. We can only conjecture. And ask knowledgeable readers to help connect the dots.

Are the internal communications of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, ABC, CBS, and NBC news routinely being intercepted and analyzed without warrants? The shocking answer is probably yes.

These news outfits all regularly collect classified information from the U.S. national- security apparatus. Some of the highly sensitive secrets they gather are put before the public, as when as in 2006 the New York Times disclosed a joint CIA-Treasury program to track al-Qaeda finances. But some secrets, the media decline to publish, making their own judgments that to do so would damage national security or imperil American lives.

But as editors deliberate about such sensitive matters, public officials may well be listening in, trying to uncover exactly what journalists know. Only they are not officials from our government.

In November 1983, Ronald Reagan issued a top-secret directive, which has now been declassified and posted on the web by the Federation of American Scientists. It explained that:

Mobile and fixed communications systems used by key U.S. Government officials in the Nation’s capital and surrounding areas are especially vulnerable to intercept and exploitation by foreign intelligence services. Information transmitted by such systems often is extremely sensitive. Even information which in isolation is unclassified can reveal highly sensitive classified information when taken in aggregate.

And Reagan imposed a solution:

To limit this aspect of the hostile intelligence threat, I direct immediate action be taken to provide secure mobile and fixed official telecommunication systems to support the U.S Government officials in the following categories.

The directive proceeded to list the various officials whose communications were to be immediately secured. We can assume, once this directive was fulfilled, that foreign intelligence agencies found it much harder to conduct electronic surveillance of the U.S. government.

But what about protecting the communications of the press?

Let’s take an editor like Bill Keller of the Times at his word when he says that his paper, in the name of safeguarding American security, only publishes a fraction of the classification information it unearths from the U.S. government.  Even if it is true, it is irrelevant.

For technologically sophisticated foreign spy outfits, like Russian and Chinese intelligence, directing antennae toward the headquarters of the Washington Post or the Washington bureau of the New York Times, or for that matter, the New Yorker — the home of that master liberator of American secrets, Seymour Hersh — would be a perfectly logical and highly fruitful move. What better way to get up-to-date assessments of high-level U.S. government deliberations? And what better way to uncover the occasional highly significant classified fact?

Is such surveillance really going on? Connecting the Dots has no direct evidence that it is. We can only conjecture. And ask knowledgeable readers to help connect the dots.

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Damage Done

Back in June 2006, the front page of the New York Times carried news of a highly secret CIA-Treasury department intelligence program to track al Qaeda financing that drew on data supplied by a European banking consortium based in Belgium known as SWIFT.

President Bush denounced the newspaper’s disclosure of the classified counterterrorism operation as “disgraceful.” Prior to publication, administration officials had strenuously warned the newspaper not to run the story, arguing, among other things, that it would endanger national security by placing the SWIFT consortium under intense pressure to stop sharing information with U.S. intelligence. 

Bill Keller, his paper already under attack for revealing a highly classified NSA terrorist surveillance program the previous December, promptly issued an equally strenuous rebuttal, noting that “if, as the administration says, the [SWIFT] program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it.” Not long after that, Byron Calame, the Times’s ombudsman chimed in, saying that “So far, SWIFT hasn’t publicly indicated any intention to stop cooperating.” 

Calame subsequently had a change of mind about the wisdom of his paper’s actions, and offered a “mea culpa,” declaring that “I don’t think the article should have been published.” Bill Keller, for his part, issued a lacerating reply to what he called Calame’s “revisionist epiphany.”

Today, buried in the back pages of the Times, comes news that the European Central Bank has ordered SWIFT to cease providing banking data to the United States for use in investigations of al Qaeda. “Under European Union rules,” the Times reports, “information on money transfers can be used only for banking purposes and not for other uses, like combating terrorism.”

To read Bill Keller’s initial defense of his paper’s actions, click here (link requires registration).

To find out how long it will take before Bill Keller issues a mea culpa of his own, click here.
 

Back in June 2006, the front page of the New York Times carried news of a highly secret CIA-Treasury department intelligence program to track al Qaeda financing that drew on data supplied by a European banking consortium based in Belgium known as SWIFT.

President Bush denounced the newspaper’s disclosure of the classified counterterrorism operation as “disgraceful.” Prior to publication, administration officials had strenuously warned the newspaper not to run the story, arguing, among other things, that it would endanger national security by placing the SWIFT consortium under intense pressure to stop sharing information with U.S. intelligence. 

Bill Keller, his paper already under attack for revealing a highly classified NSA terrorist surveillance program the previous December, promptly issued an equally strenuous rebuttal, noting that “if, as the administration says, the [SWIFT] program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it.” Not long after that, Byron Calame, the Times’s ombudsman chimed in, saying that “So far, SWIFT hasn’t publicly indicated any intention to stop cooperating.” 

Calame subsequently had a change of mind about the wisdom of his paper’s actions, and offered a “mea culpa,” declaring that “I don’t think the article should have been published.” Bill Keller, for his part, issued a lacerating reply to what he called Calame’s “revisionist epiphany.”

Today, buried in the back pages of the Times, comes news that the European Central Bank has ordered SWIFT to cease providing banking data to the United States for use in investigations of al Qaeda. “Under European Union rules,” the Times reports, “information on money transfers can be used only for banking purposes and not for other uses, like combating terrorism.”

To read Bill Keller’s initial defense of his paper’s actions, click here (link requires registration).

To find out how long it will take before Bill Keller issues a mea culpa of his own, click here.
 

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Bill Keller, Secret Agent

In 1978, back when I was working for him on Capitol Hill, Senator Pat Moynihan propounded what he called “the Iron Law of Emulation.” The basic idea was that organizations in conflict with one another come to resemble one another. Because he was drawing on the work of the 19th German sociologist Georg Simmel, some on his staff used to call it, somewhat mockingly, the Iron Law of Simmelation.

But Moynihan’s point was a good one. And today, with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller on the witness stand in the trial of Scooter Libby, we can see the iron law at work in the fiercely adversarial relationship between the Times and the U.S. intelligence community.

The editors and reporters of the New York Times believe they are covering the CIA–and in fact they are–but they are also in competition with the spy agency and the resemblances between the two institutions are striking.

Both, to begin with, have a remarkably similar mission. The CIA is charged with trying to inform its clients (the White House and the rest of the executive branch) about the world around it: what is going on where, what are the looming dangers, what are the facts, and how do reliably do we know them? Much of what the New York Times does is precisely the same, except its client is not the government but the newspaper-buying American public.

Because they are caught up in certain characteristic American dysfunctions, both institutions carry out their functions with mixed results.

The CIA and the Times, for one thing, are both charter members of the cult of “diversity.” In 1995, the spy agency created an internal body called the Resources Oversight Council aimed “at improving the agency’s efforts to hire and provide career development for women, minorities, the deaf, and people with disabilities,” leading the CIA to hire more Hispanics at the very moment when it really needed more Arabic speakers.

The Times has been doing something quite similar, and damage has demonstrably been done. In 2006 the paper announced with much fanfare that an internal body known as “the diversity council” had concluded that “diversity is essential to our business future and our journalism.” But the emphasis on diversity had been in place for decades, and it was to figure in one of the worst debacles (see below) the newspaper ever endured.

Like any large elite organization the CIA and the Times must contend with mediocrity creeping in and gumming up the works. Thus, the CIA has kept incompetents in its ranks, including “anonymous”–a.k.a. Michael Scheuer, its top expert on Osama bin Laden, who despite his insistence on always “checking the checkables,” has enormous difficulty spelling proper names and who characterized bin Laden as “the most respected, loved, romantic, charismatic, and perhaps able figure in the last 150 years of Islamic history.” And “gentle,” too.

The Times, for its part, keeps an impressive daily log of its errors, spelling and otherwise, which despite an army of editors, it cannot seem to contain. For more serious instances of bias and misinterpretation, one need only recall the reporting by Walter Duranty of Stalin’s show trials and artificial famine in the 1930’s, the placement of the Holocaust on the back pages during the 1940’s, its depiction of the North Vietnamese defeat in the Tet offensive as a major victory, or turn to watchdog outfits like CAMERA for an array of contemporary documentation.

Both institutions, over the years, have had worse than bad apples in their ranks. The CIA has suffered outright turncoats like Soviet mole Aldrich Ames, who despite internal evaluations of egregious misbehavior was steadily promoted upward until he was in a position to give away the CIA’s most precious assets.

The New York Times has had its outright traitors, too, like the diversity-hire Jayson Blair, whose fictional reporting the paper was to call “a profound betrayal of trust.” During his five-year career progressing from intern to national reporter, the management of the Times received numerous warnings that the rising star was actually a comet waiting to crash. Despite such cautions, Blair steadily advanced, like Aldrich Ames, eventually reducing the Times to what it itself called “a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.”

But in both institutions, it is not deliberate bad faith that typically creates malfunction but something else. The CIA notoriously failed to foresee the attacks of September 11 and then issued an erroneous “slam-dunk” assessment that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The problem was simply that agency analysts placed too much stock in Iraqi émigré sources who were telling them what they wanted to hear. The New York Times’s credulous treatment of Saddam Hussein’s WMD arsenal fell into the same trap.

Judith Miller was front and center. In reporting on Saddam’s burgeoning (but non-existent) WMD program, she too placed too much faith in sources who were telling her what she wanted to hear. Strikingly, in both cases, the chain of command in the CIA and the New York Times failed to ask critical questions, which only became utterly obvious–and the subject of much sanctimonious handwringing–in the incandescent glow of hindsight.

Ironically, one of the factors underpinning such maladaptive behavior is that both institutions operate behind a veil of secrecy. The CIA assiduously keeps both its methods of intelligence gathering and its internal deliberations under wraps: sources and methods, in particular, are treated as ultra-sensitive matters, disclosure of which is punishable by law.

So too with the New York Times, which, even as it calls for greater openness by the U.S. government jealously conceals its own internal workings. As with the CIA, sources and methods are treated by the Times as a matter of extraordinary sensitivity, with some of its operatives ready and willing to go to jail (Judith Miller once again!) rather than reveal who has told them what.

All of which makes the Scooter Libby trial so very compelling. A window is being opened into the internal operations of news- and intelligence-gathering at once. It is only confirming that in many of their essentials, and despite the loud protestations such a claim would elicit from both sides, the iron law of emulation holds. The Times and the CIA are becoming more similar with each passing year.

To apply for employment with the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, click here.

To apply for employment as a New York Times‘s reporter, editor, or deliveryman, click here.

In 1978, back when I was working for him on Capitol Hill, Senator Pat Moynihan propounded what he called “the Iron Law of Emulation.” The basic idea was that organizations in conflict with one another come to resemble one another. Because he was drawing on the work of the 19th German sociologist Georg Simmel, some on his staff used to call it, somewhat mockingly, the Iron Law of Simmelation.

But Moynihan’s point was a good one. And today, with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller on the witness stand in the trial of Scooter Libby, we can see the iron law at work in the fiercely adversarial relationship between the Times and the U.S. intelligence community.

The editors and reporters of the New York Times believe they are covering the CIA–and in fact they are–but they are also in competition with the spy agency and the resemblances between the two institutions are striking.

Both, to begin with, have a remarkably similar mission. The CIA is charged with trying to inform its clients (the White House and the rest of the executive branch) about the world around it: what is going on where, what are the looming dangers, what are the facts, and how do reliably do we know them? Much of what the New York Times does is precisely the same, except its client is not the government but the newspaper-buying American public.

Because they are caught up in certain characteristic American dysfunctions, both institutions carry out their functions with mixed results.

The CIA and the Times, for one thing, are both charter members of the cult of “diversity.” In 1995, the spy agency created an internal body called the Resources Oversight Council aimed “at improving the agency’s efforts to hire and provide career development for women, minorities, the deaf, and people with disabilities,” leading the CIA to hire more Hispanics at the very moment when it really needed more Arabic speakers.

The Times has been doing something quite similar, and damage has demonstrably been done. In 2006 the paper announced with much fanfare that an internal body known as “the diversity council” had concluded that “diversity is essential to our business future and our journalism.” But the emphasis on diversity had been in place for decades, and it was to figure in one of the worst debacles (see below) the newspaper ever endured.

Like any large elite organization the CIA and the Times must contend with mediocrity creeping in and gumming up the works. Thus, the CIA has kept incompetents in its ranks, including “anonymous”–a.k.a. Michael Scheuer, its top expert on Osama bin Laden, who despite his insistence on always “checking the checkables,” has enormous difficulty spelling proper names and who characterized bin Laden as “the most respected, loved, romantic, charismatic, and perhaps able figure in the last 150 years of Islamic history.” And “gentle,” too.

The Times, for its part, keeps an impressive daily log of its errors, spelling and otherwise, which despite an army of editors, it cannot seem to contain. For more serious instances of bias and misinterpretation, one need only recall the reporting by Walter Duranty of Stalin’s show trials and artificial famine in the 1930’s, the placement of the Holocaust on the back pages during the 1940’s, its depiction of the North Vietnamese defeat in the Tet offensive as a major victory, or turn to watchdog outfits like CAMERA for an array of contemporary documentation.

Both institutions, over the years, have had worse than bad apples in their ranks. The CIA has suffered outright turncoats like Soviet mole Aldrich Ames, who despite internal evaluations of egregious misbehavior was steadily promoted upward until he was in a position to give away the CIA’s most precious assets.

The New York Times has had its outright traitors, too, like the diversity-hire Jayson Blair, whose fictional reporting the paper was to call “a profound betrayal of trust.” During his five-year career progressing from intern to national reporter, the management of the Times received numerous warnings that the rising star was actually a comet waiting to crash. Despite such cautions, Blair steadily advanced, like Aldrich Ames, eventually reducing the Times to what it itself called “a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.”

But in both institutions, it is not deliberate bad faith that typically creates malfunction but something else. The CIA notoriously failed to foresee the attacks of September 11 and then issued an erroneous “slam-dunk” assessment that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The problem was simply that agency analysts placed too much stock in Iraqi émigré sources who were telling them what they wanted to hear. The New York Times’s credulous treatment of Saddam Hussein’s WMD arsenal fell into the same trap.

Judith Miller was front and center. In reporting on Saddam’s burgeoning (but non-existent) WMD program, she too placed too much faith in sources who were telling her what she wanted to hear. Strikingly, in both cases, the chain of command in the CIA and the New York Times failed to ask critical questions, which only became utterly obvious–and the subject of much sanctimonious handwringing–in the incandescent glow of hindsight.

Ironically, one of the factors underpinning such maladaptive behavior is that both institutions operate behind a veil of secrecy. The CIA assiduously keeps both its methods of intelligence gathering and its internal deliberations under wraps: sources and methods, in particular, are treated as ultra-sensitive matters, disclosure of which is punishable by law.

So too with the New York Times, which, even as it calls for greater openness by the U.S. government jealously conceals its own internal workings. As with the CIA, sources and methods are treated by the Times as a matter of extraordinary sensitivity, with some of its operatives ready and willing to go to jail (Judith Miller once again!) rather than reveal who has told them what.

All of which makes the Scooter Libby trial so very compelling. A window is being opened into the internal operations of news- and intelligence-gathering at once. It is only confirming that in many of their essentials, and despite the loud protestations such a claim would elicit from both sides, the iron law of emulation holds. The Times and the CIA are becoming more similar with each passing year.

To apply for employment with the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, click here.

To apply for employment as a New York Times‘s reporter, editor, or deliveryman, click here.

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