July 7, 2006
It's a Classified War
"The institutional press, its fourth estate identity, and what Ben Bradlee called a 'holy profession' (because 'the pursuit of truth is a holy pursuit')— these are all modern inventions. Their legitimacy derives not from the founding fathers but from the opinion of living Americans."
Bank Data Is Sifted by U.S. in Secret to Block Terror.
Secret U.S. Program Tracks Global Bank Transfers.
Since those headlines appeared on June 23 storm conditions have prevailed over the big castle of press authority. (Picture of the skies on June 28.) Some thoughts I hope you haven’t read everywhere else…
- Who elected the press to make decisions about secrets and national security? No one, absolutely no one.
Precisely because no one elected the press it must find other means of securing its legitimacy. These are inevitably political in nature; they involve persuasion and “public opinion” as well as the protections of law. Whether the journalism is handcrafted and opinionated, or mass-produced and just-the-facts, the press isn’t trustable unless it is independent of the people in charge, and stands apart from interest groups competing for power.
So independence is one means of securing legitimacy. Verification before publication is another. Transparency is a third. (Bill Keller in speeches: “As your math teacher might have said, we show our work.”)
- William Safire was, I think, wrong when he asked himself on Meet the Press “who elected the media to determine what should be secret and what should not?” and answered with: “the founding fathers did.”
The institutional press, its fourth estate identity, and what Ben Bradlee recently called “a holy profession” (because “the pursuit of truth is a holy pursuit…”)— these are all modern inventions. Their legitimacy derives not from the founding fathers but from the opinion of living Americans that an independent and truthtelling press is vital to have as a check on government power, that its loss would be dangerous to their well being, and that professional journalists are doing the job well enough now to be that vital check.
When there are people in politics who wish to change that opinion into… An independent and truthtelling press is vital but the press we have is not independent, it’s aligned with a liberal elite, and has become a threat to national security… they cannot be defeated by invoking the founders or reciting the Constitution. There have to be other ways of arguing the case and fighting back.
Dana Priest of the Washington Post had a good starting point: “We are covering the war on terror, it’s a classified war.” Right. So what does the press do?
- If you don’t trust for a moment the judgment or solemn word of the Bush Administration, then you’ll view the Times decision to print the SWIFT story one way.
For example as Glenn Greenwald does: “Americans have abandoned this administration due to a long list of intense grievances with the President, and relentless, hysterical attacks on newspapers are highly unlikely to make them forget about those grievances… Ultimately, any institution or group which commits the Greatest Sin of opposing the President and imposing any limits on his powers will be subjected to this same treatment.”
- If you don’t trust for a moment the judgment or solemn word of the New York Times and its editors, then you’ll view the decision in a totally different way.
Hugh Hewitt at the new boombox version of Townhall.com: “The picture that has emerged after a week is of two for-profit newspapers, eager for Pulitizers and aware of the other’s hunt for a headline, disregarding the urgent arguments of senior government officials and running a story on a program only dimly if at all understood by some (and by no stretch of the imagination all) terrorists, the result of which is to alert the world and even the below-average-intelligence killer of one key way the United States tracks them.”
Let’s not pretend there can be any “debate” between those views. Storm conditions, yes. Discourse, no. (See Jack Shafer’s Bush or Keller?) Where I could see a debate emerging is over Priest’s observation: how should an independent press cover a classified war, or should it even try? If you think the press has no business digging into the government’s secret fight against terrorism, then what Dana Priest and others do is deeply illegitimate at the start. This is different than criticizing bad journalism or poor judgment.
- David Ignatius ran to daylight when he asked in a column for the Post, not who should be trusted with secrets, but what have the parties involved—the Bush White House, the American press—actually done to build public confidence in their judgment as they handle secrets in a classified war?
“‘Trust us’ is not a winning argument in America — either with newspaper editors or the public at large,” he writes. But that is what the “holy profession” says, especially when it relies on confidential sources. (And “we show our work” is vacated.) It’s also the argument of the Administration. Trust us; we know things you don’t. No, we can’t show our work. But you understand why. It’s the nature of the war we’re in.
David Ignatius sees the cracks: “We journalists usually try to argue that we have carefully weighed the pros and cons and believe that the public benefit of disclosure outweighs any potential harm. The problem is that we aren’t fully qualified to make those judgments. We make the best decisions we can, but they are based on limited knowledge.”
That’s part of the problem. Hosting Meet the Press July 2, Andrea Mitchell turned to Bill Safire. A lot of people think the Times is “motivated by an anti-Bush animus,” she said. “Is The New York Times making a decision that is political rather than editorial?” What escapes her imagination is an editorial call that requires political judgment too. The decision to publish secrets is like that. It eludes the categories in current press think.
My views: I find the decision to publish the SWIFT story defensible, but more arguable than the earlier Times story on the National Security Agency. (That’s where Nick Kristof is on it.) I don’t understand why the information in this post from CounterTerrorism Blog didn’t make it into the newspaper reporting. (Neither does CJR Daily.) Whether damage was done in the fight against terrorism I cannot say; that evidence is shrouded in darkness. (Read Dan Froomkin on how little has come to light.) Look, it’s a classified war. The grounds for judgment are often missing.
- Are there any limits at all on the lengths to which the New York Times will go to “get” George W. Bush? Yes, there are.
We know this because the Times does not print everything it knows about what the government is doing. Nor do the other national dailies. “The fact is, journalists regularly hold back information for national security reasons,” writes Kristof, “I recently withheld information at the request of the intelligence community about secret terrorist communications.” I believe that. People in government know it happens.
But under storm conditions Heather MacDonald, writing in the Weekly Standard, can just say no. The Times, she says, is “so antagonistic to the Bush administration that it will expose every classified antiterror program it finds out about, no matter how legal the program, how carefully crafted to safeguard civil liberties, or how vital to protecting American lives.” (My italics.)
If the Times decides not to publish, MacDonald would normally never know about it. In fact she has no idea which classified antiterror programs the Times found out about but did not reveal, and yet she went with her categorical statement (“by now it’s undeniable”) because it expressed the rage better. The rage may be real, her certainty about what the Times will do is faked. She doesn’t know enough to know.
At his blog, The Horse’s Mouth, Greg Sargent explained the reactions since June 23 as a “diversionary tactic.” It’s “really all about reuniting a Republican base that’s cracking under multiple strains,” he said. It’s true that the New York Times makes for outstanding culture war theatre, but I think election-year tactics do not explain the severity of the storm.
More is involved. There was one sentence that struck me as mighty revealing in the joint op-ed by Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, and Dean Baquet, editor of the Los Angeles Times. They had just said that the conflict between the government’s “passion for secrecy” and the press’s drive to reveal things is not a recent development, which is true.
- “This did not begin with the Bush administration,” said the editors in New York and Los Angeles, “although the polarization of the electorate and the daunting challenge of terrorism have made the tension between press and government as clamorous as at any time since Justice Black wrote.” Sorry, that won’t do.
What has made the tension between press and government especially “clamorous” is that people in charge of the Bush White House decided on a strategy for rolling back the national press. It’s part of their reclamation and expansion of executive branch power. The aim is more freedom of action for the President and his powerful VP in going after the terror networks. As I have argued before, the Bush team changed the game on Washington journalists; and they knew they could get away with it.
For some reason Keller and Baquet decided not to mention any of that. (Maybe they agree with Robert Kaiser: “What isn’t new here seems more significant than what is.”) At Yearly Kos in Las Vegas, Matt Bai, who covers politics for the New York Times Magazine, said he agreed with me that the game had been changed, and the press had not responded very well.
David Remnick summed things up in this week’s New Yorker: “More than any other White House in history, Bush’s has tried to starve, mock, weaken, bypass, devalue, intimidate, and deceive the press, using tactics far more toxic than any prose devised in the name of Spiro Agnew.”
And this week the base has responded with ugly escalations of its own. If those are the tactics what is the strategy? I think it begins with Dick Cheney’s conviction that executive power was eroded after Vietnam and Watergate, and ought to be taken back from the institutions that had grabbed too much for themselves— especially the oversight troops in Congress and the “gotcha” press.
Another part of the puzzle was brought to my attention in 2004 by journalist Ron Suskind when he wrote of the “retreat from empiricism” in the governing style of George W. Bush. Attacks on the press are part of that. So is the distortion of intelligence.
I just finished reading George Packer’s fine book, The Assassin’s Gate. Chapter to chapter, it follows the retreat from empiricism in the build-up to the Iraq war. The way that war came to us required victory over the facts on the ground, and over people in the government who had knowledge of what was likely to happen. The Bush forces won that victory. Executive privilege got exerted on the terrain of fact itself. That’s at stake too in the storming of the press castle.
After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…
Extra, extra! Journalism deans weigh in. It’s a rarity to see any sort of statement from the heads of major university-based journalism programs. But here is When in Doubt, Publish by Geoffrey Cowan of USC, Alex S. Jones of Harvard’s Kennedy School, John Lavine of Northwestern, Nicholas Lemann of Columbia, and Orville Schell of Berkeley (Washington Post, July 9). The opening lines:
It is the business — and the responsibility — of the press to reveal secrets.
Journalists are constantly trying to report things that public officials and others believe should be secret, and constantly exercising restraint over what they publish.
Schell is also a PressThink author, see his J-Schools Have to Get More Involved from July, 2005. This new piece is an example of what he meant.
I’m glad the five men spoke up in a situation of urgency, and I would like to see more of it. I wish their statement added something—anything—to what has already been said in defense of the press, but alas…it does not. Maybe that’s too much to hope for with discourse by committee.
Chrtistopher Hitchens isn’t a fan of the Dean’s statement. Neither is Tom Maguire of Just One Minute. See his A Teachable Moment. Tom thinks it would be fun to ask J-school students whether they agree with the Deans (and Alex Jones, who isn’t a Dean) that Robert Novak made the wrong decision to reveal Valerie Plame’s name.
Jeff Jarvis, soon to be a J-school professor, isn’t satisfied: When and why to tell secrets. “I would have hoped for more from these people, in particular, more than just a defense of one American editor… academics should be able to better distance themselves from the fray of the moment and see where standards should lie.” Jarvis doesn’t care for the formula, “when in doubt, publish.” Neither do I. I don’t think it says anything.
Hitchens also makes a crucial observation about this story: “If the House intelligence committee regards itself as being kept in the dark, what is the press to do but make the assumption that there is too little public information available rather than too much?”
Letter to Romenesko from Tim Graham of the conservative-leaning Media Research Center (and a PressThink author): “The liberal media elite assumes the word of Bill Keller descends from Mount Olympus, and that no one can question his newspaper’s quite obvious political agenda.”
William Powers in National Journal: “Watching the story play out, I’ve found myself hoping that reasonable heads don’t prevail on this one, that the conflict will get hotter and uglier and eventually wind up in court, a la Plame only more dramatic. Why? Because this country needs to have a great, big, loud, come-to-Jesus argument about the role of the press in a time of war, terror, and secrecy.”
Jacon Weisberg, editor of Slate: “The New York Times, while acting in good faith, made the wrong call by printing the SWIFT story.”
Kevin Baker in Harpers: Stabbed in the Back! The past and future of a right-wing myth.
Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.
Felicity Barringer of the New York Times in the comments:
The current generation of extremists, like their predecessors, want to expropriate the meaning of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the flag, making them the private preserve of their ideology or geopolitical perspective. That make it all the easier to label other perspectives obstructionist or treasonous.
So what’s wrong with making the case for press legitimacy on the documents that define us? This isn’t a quaint or irrelevant approach. It is a necessary — though perhaps not a sufficient — basis for increasing public support for an independent press in general and The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time and the rest in particular.
There’s more to her reply.
Daniel Conover in the comments.
Precisely because no one elected the press it must find other means of securing its legitmacy. These are inevitably political in nature; they involve persuasion and “public opinion” as well as the protections of law.
Granted. Now, given the emerging rules, relationships and capabilities of 21st century media, how do we approach solving this problem? How do we secure the legitimacy of journalism?
I’ve been a loyal PressThink reader since December 2004, and I’m beginning to think that this is the central theme interwoven through every thread here.
To secure is not the same thing as to defend.
Exactly. You can’t secure the press just by defending it. This is what the current post argues, as well.
From the post-script to this essay added to the Huffington Post version:
Also involved is a tendency noticed by Paul Krugman, who said this in a 2004 interview with Buzzflash:
For four years now, some of us have been saying, whether or not you think they’re bad guys, they’re certainly radical. They don’t play by the rules. You can’t take anything that you’ve regarded as normal from previous U.S. political experience as applying to Bush and the people around him. They will say things and do things that would not previously have made any sense — you know, would have been previously considered out of bounds.
… Mainstream political journalism is a system that falls apart when deviant or radical behavior overtakes centers of power. It isn’t capable of throwing out the playbook when confronted with a new threat, because it doesn’t have any other playbook and it can’t stop the presses long enough to work one out.
Editor & Publisher reported this July 5: “Managing Editor Paul Steiger of The Wall Street Journal and Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. of The Washington Post were both asked to be part of last weekend’s unique joint Op-Ed piece by the editors of The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, which defended the publication of stories about the secret SWIFT bank monitoring program, E&P has learned. But each declined.”
Recommended: Katrina Vanden Heuvel on The Nation, the New York Times, John F. Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs, and White House pressure not to publish.
Dean Baquet of the LA Times: “Newspapers don’t know how to respond to critics.” (See also Patterico’s worries.)
For the record, here’s the amazing, twisting, confounding and ultimately hilarious Wall Street Journal editorial denouncing the New York Times for running a story the Wall Street Journal also chased and published, and accusing publisher Arthur Sulzberger of wanting to obstruct the war on terror because he told college graduates that the world wasn’t supposed to turn out as it has.
I’ve read it four times and still can’t make sense of it, especially this sentence: “We suspect that the Times has tried to use the Journal as its political heatshield precisely because it knows our editors have more credibility on these matters.” Huh? But let Rachel Sklar have a go. Editorial Page editor Paul Gigot wouldn’t answer questions about it. I guess he thinks it speaks for itself! And here’s an email from a former WSJ staffer. The news staff of the Journal has been embarrassed many times before by the editorial page; but this was probably the worst. Indeed: “I’ve been here 16 years, and in my 16 years, this is something different,” political reporter Jackie Calmes told the New York Observer.
Frank Rich decoding it: “The Journal editorial page was sending an unsubtle shot across the bow, warning those in the newsroom (and every other newsroom) that their patriotism would be impugned, as The Times’s had been, if they investigated administration conduct in wartime in ways that displeased the White House.” Also see this televised exchange with Marvin Kalb and Paul Gigot.
Robert Kaiser, former managing editor of the Washington Post, before the current blow-up:
I am not going to disclose Priest’s sources (I don’t know who they were), but I do know there were many of them. I know that she traveled extensively to report the story. I know that her article, like virtually all the best investigative reporting on sensitive subjects that we publish, was assembled like a Lego skyscraper, brick by brick. Often the sources who help reporters with this difficult task don’t even realize that they have contributed a brick or two to the construction. Typically, many of the sources who contribute know only a sliver of the story themselves. A good reporter such as Priest can spend weeks or months on a single story, looking for those bricks.
I want to add, immodestly, that The Post’s record on stories of this kind is good. I don’t know of a single case when the paper had to retract or correct an important story containing classified information. Nor do I know of a case when we compromised a secret government program, or put someone’s life in danger, or gave an enemy significant assistance.
Katharine Graham, then publisher of the Washington Post, in 1986:
The terrorist has to communicate his own ruthlessness — his “stop-at-nothing” mentality — in order to achieve his goals. Media coverage is essential to his purpose.
If terrorism is a form of warfare, as many observers now believe, it is a form in which media exposure is a powerful weapon.
For those who want to see prosecutions, the guiding text is Gabriel Schoenfeld, Has the New York Times Violated the Espionage Act? (Commentary Magazine, March, 2006)
Posted by Jay Rosen at July 7, 2006 1:08 AM
I think you capture a big part of the picture very effectively.
Here's another part that mystifies me. I can't help seeing the press and the Cheney administration as two boxers in a ring. Cheney has cut the press over both eyes with a razor blade inside his glove, he's hit them below the belt, he's stepped on and crushed their toes, and he has them backed up against the buckles in a corner. The press keeps responding like it was just walking down the street minding its own business and can't understand why it keeps getting hit. After each shot to the groin, it keeps muttering, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me." This looks like weakeness to Cheney, so he just hits harder. Cheney's right. It is weakness.
The press's ombudsman says, "Yesterday, Mr. Cheney publicly announced that he violently disagrees with us. We're very sorry. We'll try to do better next time. From now on, we'll try to agree with Mr. Cheney whenever grammatically possible instead of just most of the time like before."
Every once in a while a non-right-wing blogger says, "You know, isn't it about time you considered putting your hands up? Maybe even punching back once in a while? Have you noticed your bloody and staggering on the ropes and Cheney just keeps kicking you in the balls? He just told Rush the other day that, given the chance, he'd shoot you in the face and dance on your grave. His buddy just posted your home address and phone number on his website with directions to your house including convenient gunshops in your area and their ammo prices.
The press: Why do you hate my friend Cheney? Shut up! Can't you see I need to get along with him to do my job? Besides, I can't have a settled opinion about Mr. Cheney and his friends, I'm a journalist. I may have to investigate you for saying such disrespectful things about a major American political figure. At the very least, you clearly don't understand the responsibilites of a serious, professional journalist.
non-right-wing-bloggers: You might like to think of yourself as a journalist, but from here you just look like a defenseless moron. Doesn't it bother you when Cheney and friends say they want you dead day after day? If you can't tell when someone wants you dead, you can't be much of an investigator, can you? Don't come crying to me when you fall bleeding on the ground.
The press: Damn left-blogger barbarians! I may have to file for a restraining order on reality.
Tim: The way Overholser defines objectivity -- The way it is currently construed, "objectivity" makes the media easily manipulable by an executive branch intent on and adept at controlling the message. It produces a rigid orthodoxy, excluding voices beyond the narrowly conventional -- is not the same thing as objectivity of method. It is, rather, a confined and confining way of reporting and structuring a story: You get "both sides" of the story and present them as equally valid.
For reasons that escape me even after 22 years in the business, that approach has become the default mode for presenting news. Problem is, it only works if 1) there are only two, diametrically opposing, sides of a story and 2) they are equally valid. Most stories don't meet those criteria, of course, yet we continue to act as if they do.
Objectivity of method -- that is, pursuing facts, following "discipline of verification" -- is not out of style and probably never will be.
To get back to the original subject of this post, one way we in the news media can continue to secure the legitimacy of journalism -- and although Dan Conover didn't phrase it in quite this way, I hope he would agree that doing so will be an ongoing, never-ending process -- is to adhere as strictly as possible to the discipline of verification.
Another is to remember that, as Geneva Overholser observed, the First Amendment belongs to the people, not just to those of us who work in the news media. Accordingly, we need to keep constantly in mind that we are surrogates for the people in service of their need to keep an eye on what their government is doing. When we must explicitly invoke First Amendment rights, we should strive to ensure that we are doing so in service of First Amendment responsibilities.
What does that mean? One example: In my shop, we almost never use anonymous sources because our readers have made very clear that they neither like them nor trust them, no matter what assurances we give them as to the truthworthiness of the source and the validity of the information. So we use them only when there's no other way to get certain important stories, knowing that there are some stories so important that we're going to have to get them no matter how pissed readers get at our methods.
Even this minor example is one the White House press corps generally has not embraced, and I believe it's one reason they are neither as effective or as trusted as they could be.
From Jay's post: "(Press) legitimacy derives not from the founding fathers but from the opinion of living Americans."
This framework for Jay's longer argument has a fundamental flaw. What derives "from the founding fathers" and "the opinion of living Americans" can't be disentangled. Our founding documents are the basis of any American's national identity, in the 18th century or the 21st. Public officials and military personnel take an oath to defend the Constitution. Our national holiday celebrates the Declaration. In wartime, other countries rally around common geography or religion or heritage. Americans rally around our common history -- from the revolution to 9/11 -- AND our common understanding of our founders' intent. How can "the opinion of living Americans" avoid taking its cue from the founding fathers?
The current debate, as Jack Shafer points out, is argued on facts most people don't have.
In the absence of verifiable evidence of the harm done by publication or the newspapers' willingness to withhold material crucial to national security making the case for or against press legitimacy quickly devolves into a matter of allegiance. "I believe the newspapers are dangerous because the president said so." Or, "I don't believe anything the president says."
There's a corollary to Jack's point. In the asbence of crucial evidence, it helps to make reference to first principles. Minds that aren't made up may respond to arguments based on a common understanding of the ideas that make us a country.
Extremists in any jihad against the press seek to shatter that shared understanding. That was true in the 1790's, when fear of war with France gave birth to the alien and sedition act and editors were jailed. Within a decade, the public said, "What were we thinking?" The same excess and the same remorse, more or less, prevailed during and after the Civil War and World War I. And about a decade ago, Erwin Griswold, Nixon's solicitor general, who had argued for prior restraint in the Penagon Papers case, wrote an op-ed disawowing his old claims that publishing the secret history of Vietnam endangered national security. (Geoffrey Stone's "Perilous Times" is a great primer on this dynamic.)
The current generation of extremists, like their predecessors, want to expropriate the meaning of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the flag, making them the private preserve of their ideology or geopolitical perspective. That make it all the easier to label other perspectives obstructionist or treasonous.
So what's wrong with making the case for press legitimacy on the documents that define us? This isn't a quaint or irrelevant approach. It is a necessary -- though perhaps not a sufficient -- basis for increasing public support for an independent press in general and The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time and the rest in particular.
With due respect, you make a factual error in this piece. The Founding Fathers absolutely chose a free press to make those determinations.
No, they didn't, Armando. The power to declassify sensitive information rests with the Executive. The 4th Estate is not free, willy-nilly, to publish classified information without restriction. That is settled as a matter of statutes, and as a matter of case law upholding said statutes against challenges to their constitutionality.
Indeed, your specific position was soundly refuted by the Supreme Court, in Harlan's decision in Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts:
"The publisher of a newspaper has no special immunity from the application of general laws."
As well as in Justice Black's decision in Associated Press v. United States:
Member publishers of AP are engaged in business for profit exactly as are other business men who sell food, steel, aluminum, or anything else people need or want. . . . All are alike covered by the Sherman Act. The fact that the publisher handles news while others handle food does not, as we shall later point out, afford the publisher a peculiar constitutional sanctuary in which he can with impunity violate laws regulating his business practices.
The Pentagon Papers case - so often lauded by half-educated reporters who haven't bothered to read Justice White's decision - also upheld the constitutionality both on the a priori restriction of publication of information which would cause grievous harm to national security, as well as the constitutionality of prosecuting members of the press after the fact for violating secrecy laws in other cases. In fact, Justice White ruled that he would have "no problem" with prosecuting the New York Times under criminal statutes, in that particular case.
The founding fathers ensured the freedom of the use of the printing press to hold the powerful accountable - but that does not extend to the reckless disregard of national security concerns in express violation of federal laws prohibiting in some cases even the possession of - much less the publishing - of lawfully classified information and documents.
All parts of the constitution are coequal with all other parts. The intellectual trap so many journalists - and liberals in general - fall into, is that they fetishize the 1st amendment over and above the other coequal paragraphs of the constitution (even as they chide conservatives for fetishizing the 2nd).
But the power to classify and declassify documents is part of the chief executive's constitutional function as commander in chief of the armed forces.
This power is not itself without limitation, of course. But the idea that the 4th estate usurps the legitimate function of the executive - in essence becoming an unelected and unaccountable branch of government in itself - is clearly unconstitutional.
The law recognizes the compelling interest of government to keep certain things secret. And the courts have affirmed so repeatedly.
Lichtblau was clueless about the entire subject in an article in 2005. This conflicts with the "everybody knew about it" second or third set of excuses.
If everybody knew it, why is it news? More to the point, why is it front-page news? According to the NYT, it was legal, there was oversight, and it had been effective. And, if everybody knew it, putting it in the paper was a complete waste of ink. Their excuses don't wash, and conflict with each other. Sorry performance.
Martha Graham thought that the WaPo might have inadvertently alerted the terrs to a code breaking and contributed to the Beirut bombing which killed about 240 Marines. She says it was an accident, one of those things, which is nice to know. The WaPo actually did purposefully blow a Laos POW rescue op in the Seventies. I talked to the reporter who did it. He lied about the reason. Man, was I suprised to hear that. That he would lie to me, I mean.
I think the public's right to know includes the sources the journos use. I mean, I'm the public. Don't I get to say what I have a right to know? Or are the journos the guys who know what I have a right to know and what I have no right to know?
Now, the journos are obviously in a position to tell me to pound sand when I ask who their sources are, but that's not the same as convincing me they're right, and when I find some leverage, I may--not being convinced they're right--use it.
As I used to say thirty-five years ago, if I were getting ready to step into the dark over an enemy city, depending for my life on nobody knowing, would I be happy to know a journo knew? Hell, no. I'd refuse to go. It is conceivable that some would hold back the info. But the NYT and its buddies are making the odds I could be convinced considerably less.
Victor Hanson, who is plugged in, said the military has discussed ways it can win a war before the media lose it. I don't know if he was venting, speculating, had heard a bitch session, or something more formal. But if the military are not dicussing such things, they're 'way behind.
Village. Not all terrs are geniuses. I would presume they choose their finance guys with at least some concern about IQ. But when the investigators are on your tail, and when the methods of moving money are closed to you, or perhaps they're closed, or some of them are closed but you don't know which, and you haven't been reading the NYT who thought--the first time--that this was news which means few knew of it, you might be inclined to do something besides get a pile of small bills and a ticket to Waziristan.
Point is, now that the Europeans are going to drop out of the investigation, this is OPEN to them.
This was unnecessary, and partisan. And forty'leven posts making excuses don't change that.
Whatever one may think of its choices, the public elected a government via long established constitutional democratic processes. That government was elected during a time of war, obviously empowered by the electorate to conduct that war.
Some holders of highly sensitive classified information, not satisfied with the consequences of that process, choose to ignore democratic principles by anonymously leaking this information. These individuals, violating oaths by which they gained access, are ultimately anti-democratic. By their decision to anonymously break the law, they have proven unwilling to shoulder the consequences of their actions, instead changing US policy and damaging capabilities without accountability. These are not whistle-blowing people of conscience, or they would aver anonymity.
The press' choice to use these cowards, by publishing the resulting classified information, abets this criminal anti-democratic activity, and should be viewed as such. The press is encouraging serious anti-democratic criminal activity for its own purposes.
How does it justify this conspiracy to violate the democratically enacted (and constitutionally tested) laws and the undermining of recently elected officials? Have harmful abuses of the "blown" programs been found? If so, do these outweigh the dangers of publication? Does the MSM have the knowledge to know those dangers, when it betrays appalling ignorance in so many areas? Why does the MSM repeatedly and knowingly violate national security laws?
The founders and the Constitution envisioned a healthy and free press. But no government can protect the rights of its people if it cannot protect them or itself from attack. To be dead is to not have freedom of speech.
Today’s New York Times would have published George Washington’s war plans, I’m afraid. As Jason mentioned, SCOTUS has repeatedly found that the press can be held criminally responsible when it violates the law. The establishment press has no more protection than the ordinary citizen (TPFKATA), no matter how much power it arrogates to itself or how noble it imagines its motives. Members of the MSM are (so far) unconvicted felons, and proud of it.
Asked above is how the press gains legitimacy. How about by behaving responsibly and not conspiring with anti-democratic cowards? How about giving the administration, regardless of political differences, some credibility in its warnings of danger? How about not repeatedly acting feloniously.
Beyond the danger of the MSM’s revelations is the obvious partisanship. The press crowed almost every day about the evil of the Valerie Plame leak (which apparently was legal and immaterial), while producing little but self-congratulation about other far more damaging revelations? Could it be that the MSM smelled administration blood in the former?
Is it any surprise that many of us deduce partisan motivation, and choose not to believe any of the high-minded bloviations we read here and throughout the MSM justifying the release of our most sensitive secrets to Al Qaeda and its friends? From the publication of the NSA foreign wiretap program to the recent publicizing of the SWIFT program, the press has behaved as if working for our enemies.
Legitimacy? How about just behaving well enough to be regarded as responsible American citizens?
Your presumption of knowledge on the part of the terrorist is a common and unconvincing excuse. It is easy to assert, and may be very comforting, but dangerous.
It’s foolish to credit an enemy with either too much or not enough capability and knowledge. Defense should be in depth. Rather than arguing for minimum secrecy, which is an essential part of the MSM excuse, one should argue for excessive secrecy.
Counter-intelligence experts understand this. An example is the "need to know" principle in the handling of secrets. When I held a security clearance, I was not authorized to read material at that level unless I had a "need to know" it in order to do my job - even though I was "cleared" (investigated) for material that sensitive.
While something may seem obvious to one of us, it may not be to the enemy. Furthermore, the enemy is forced to choose among unpleasant alternatives in his logistical operations. By revealing our capabilities and actual activities, the accuracy of those choices is improved - to our detriment.
Enemies seek to know as much as possible about the opposition. This is done by intelligence techniques, which even in the first world use primarily public information. It is the knitting together of many clues from public and other sources that results in a picture of capability and actions. Thus an enemy may be able to see, or evaluate a chink in our armor, ultimately as result of a "minor" release of information. Data mining is a high tech way to do this, and unfortunately some of that by our government has also been hobbled.
In this war, more than any other, we are fighting a heterogeneous enemy. The ideology is viral, and complete amateurs catch it - becoming terrorists without any initial contact with an organization. These folks will likely seek contact and support, and may be unsophisticated in doing so. This provides an fleeting opportunity for us: a relatively obvious "secret" may be new to them, but the revelation may prevent us from detecting them.
In wartime, dramatic sacrifices may be necessary in the name of secrecy. During World War II, Churchill sacrificed the inhabitants of Coventry to preserve the Enigma cryptographic secret, for example. Is it asking too much for a bit more discretion in the publication of even "minor" secrets, much less major ones such as who we are cooperating with (ending that cooperation) or NSA capabilities and how they are being used?
The primary argument against the holding secrets is distrust of government - a healthy attitude. However, during wartime the balance of this distrust and the chance of enabling an enemy to do grievous harm has to be more tilted towards secrecy. We have a long history of democracy, and even those occasions where the government has misused secrets for partisan or personal advantage have failed to ultimately damage our civil liberties.
We have more liberty today, in a time of global war, than we had a mere 40 years ago. Unfortunately, some in the MSM are showing that they cannot use it wisely.
Reminder from post: Let’s not pretend there can be any “debate” between those views. Storm conditions, yes. Discourse, no.
Second reminder from post: David Ignatius ran to daylight when he asked in a column... not who should be trusted with secrets, but what have the parties involved—the Bush White House, the American press—actually done to build public confidence in their judgment as they handle secrets in a classified war?
You can tell who's chomping at the bit, but... Arguing about the decision to publish is going to go nowhere fast. Not because the decision isn't arguable, but because it is endlessly arguable, in part due to the fact that our knowledge is vastly and fatally incomplete.
It won't be easy, but try to imagine a situation where every decision the Times could make is irresponsible-- to trust in Bushco, to not trust and make an independent judgment with fatally incomplete knowledge, to ignore, to wait.
Watch out. We may be in a situation like that. Why does there have to be a "right call?" (As in: "that was the right call.") Is it a law of nature? Maybe all calls are wrong and that's what so vexing.
Which is why I recommended instead: how does an independent press cover a classified war?
Let's see if any of you learned anything about being baited by people who think you represent the clueless, irresponsible, war-undermining press and who come here to spew their disgust and jeer at you, so that you'll make the noises they expect to hear. I'm anticipating the same old game and that the same old tactics will work on you, the baitees, so any improvement will be a plus.
Jay, I don't come here to bait, but I suspect you are referring to me along with others, since I do indeed think many here represent or at least defend the irresponsible war-undermining press (not clueless, though).
I would hope that the work I put into my responses is not dismissed as spew, but it probably will be. Certainly it is meant to be harsh, as that is both my viewpoint, and perhaps one that will cut through the clouds of bloviation.
Yes, some of us have strong opinions, and some are very negative towards the MSM. Of course, I see equivalently strong opinions in the press and here directed towards people with my viewpoint. Fair is fair - except when you own a press and I do not.
As to arguing about whether to publish - Jay, isn't that at the heart of covering a war you describe as "classified", at the heart of the issue of journalistic respectability during that war, and is very much an issue today because of the much discussed publication of secrets?
To dismiss discussion of that as a game and tactics (or "baiting") is to demean those of us who have a different point of view from your own.
Once again, as I see so often in the press, it would appear that disagreement is taken as mere tactics - nothing to be taken seriously, but rather just some of the great unwashed trying to cause trouble.
It reminds me of how the press covers so much in Washington - not as the serious business of governing, but as a petty contest of tactics, and as a horse race. Too many times, the actions of officials are reported in a purely political context - as if officials never mean what they say or work for the nation, as opposed to pure partisanship.
Projection by the press? I often suspect that members of the press view almost anything through a cynical zero-sum lense - as petty politicking and personal gamesmanship. Could this be one reason the public has such a negative view of almost everything national, including the press?
Perhaps you can suggest how to discuss covering a "classified" war without going into the issue of what secrets to publish. I'm waiting.
PressThink examines issues of practice in the press of the current day. But almost all the really good examples -- stories that provoke questions about what the press is for, how it works, etc., -- come from stories about subjects that people have strong and largely fixed opinions about. So the conversation drifts toward the no-ideas Crossfire zone: the place where nobody ever changes their mind.
And it's not like there isn't a metric ton of that stuff delivered fresh every morning.
So, back to the press issue at hand. "How does the press cover a classified war?"
In particular, how do they cover it in an era of Rollback? What do you do when access journalism is dead or dying? And it's not just in Washington: what do you think reporters think about stories they wrote about Enron or Worldcom just before they collapsed, stories based on sources that just plain lied? What do you do when sources a) stop talking to you or b) lie to you when they do talk to you?
Well, you start writing stories that don't depend so heavily on these sources.
What I see when I read the paper is a new emphasis on stories that have public documents of all kinds, from the National Archives to YouTube -- as their genesis. I see more and more of these stories, but it's gotten off to a clunky start -- sometimes it results in stories that aren't news. Example: the NYT story on Wikipedia proclaiming that the online encyclopedia had changed its policy on allowing edits. But articles on John Kerry and George Bush were frozen for most of the 2004 political conventions. So is it news? The SWIFT story strikes many the same way. There was already information out there.
This kind of "more data, fewer human sources" story may be more difficult to write. The reporter is parachuted into a mountain of data about a subject (or area of a subject) that's new to them. How is he or she going to avoid misreading the data and making beginner errors about the subject? Well, sources used to do that: you'd find someone knowledgeable about the subject, hand them something and say, "I found this. What is it? What does it mean?" But these days the sources are toast.
One way to avoid writing the kind of story that will prompt letters to the editor from the people who wouldn't talk to you pointing out errors may be to have a reporter's notebook that's online. Link to what you found and say what you think it might be and let the TPFKATA party begin!
I do think this would work for a wide variety of stories (it would, I think, radically improve conditions for science, health, and technology journalists, where the challenge of picking up a difficult subject quickly and with accuracy is very high). The technology journalist Clive Thompson's blog Collision Detection is an excellent example of a writer using a blog to work out (and discover, sometimes from readers) ideas that later become fully-finished articles.
Issue #1: it may not work for war or political stories because the comment section would just become an idea-free Crossfire zone. A general request on a blog for information about SWIFT and how governments use it to stop crime may have turned up the 2004 reports, however.
Issue #2: It's at odds with scoop culture.
The degree of Faustian quotes regarding the Fourth Estate and the claims for unique "Rights" is obnoxious. Consider the works linked below:
Letter to James Madison
Paris Aug. 28. 1789
Or John Adams, Letter to the Abby de Mably, on the Proper Method of Treating American History; In the Appendix to the Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America
(Serious readers will appreciate that selective quoting of the above writings, however typical and acceptable in our modern 'factoid' intellectual culture, is in fact an insult both to the individual authors AND those whose desire to lessen their own yawning ignorance on the matter is actually sincere. Federalist 84, indeed!)
Mr. Bradlee is perhaps the perfect ironic choice to represent the hypocrisy and shamelessness of a certain species of newsman. Special Agent W. Mark Felt, aka "Deep Throat", has a very well documented body of projects that he oversaw during his tenure at the FBI that, had his identity as the WP's principal source been disclosed, certainly would have colored the public (and rival news agencies) debate over the Watergate fiasco. Was Special Agent Felt ever seriously in need of protection as a confidential source and whistleblower? Ha! No. This is a man who, figuratively speaking, knew G. Edgar Hoover's dress size! Mr. Bradlee certainly knew that having been passed over to replace Hoover as the head of the bureau, agent Felt's motives and thus the reliability of his disclosures WERE NOT "objective". It no doubt occured to Mr. Bradlee that a man of genuine principle would have become a whistleblower BEFORE he rose to number two at the FBI. Or that Agent Felt had a past so riddled by overt (and likely criminal) violations of the Constitution himself that he'd make the CREEP boys look almost benign in comparison.
The point is that selective disclosure and use of only those aspects of a large body of sensitive ("secret") information that conform to a pre-defined rhetorical conclusion, WHILE abusing the spirit of US constitutional protections for the press by HIDING other aspects or information that might damage said conclusion if known by political opponents OR neutral parties, is what both the Watergate, Rathergate, and the current debates are essentially about. The NYT, LA Times, and Ben Bradlee's WP can, of course, PRINT whatever they like... the question of libel is for lawyers. But regarding the publication of information that is deemed "classified" or "secret" NONE of the authors of the Federalist should be claimed as advocates... not Jay, who was a diplomat, nor obviously Madison or Hamilton (as President and VP respectively) can be argued to have understood the concept of "Freedom of the Press" as unqualified in cases that touch upon official National interest.
So Mr. Bradlee's "holy profession" seems to have the same attitude of philosophic Proportionalism used by the Jesuits during the counter-reformation... For the Editors and Publishers, our secular cardinals and bishops, and for the Confessor/Journalists in their employ; And especially for those in political or institutional positions of Power that conform to whatever Dogma Mr. Bradlee's small 'c' catholic media establishment determines is free of heresy, there is ONE standard of Ethic and Morality. While for the rest of us, whether we are apostate media heathen bloggers, excommunicated political figures like Joe Lieberman, or merely the flyover American flock to be fleeced by the new "Holy Profession"... for the rest of us, there is a DIFFERENT standard.
Finally, for those of you in NYC or LA or D.C.: "small town" America has news papers than pick up stories from the wires as well as syndicated "big city" papers like the WP or Times. Welcome to the internet age.
Sometimes the MainStreamMedia find themselves in direct conflict with the Bush Administration (as PressThink's Rollback doctrine has eloquently proposed and The New Yorker's Remnick has wholeheartedly seconded).
Sometimes, the journalism of MSM reporters causes them to find themselves in the middle of a yet larger political battlefield.
It is in that latter context that I understand, and subscribe to Priest's comments on Meet The Press.
Of course the publication of the CIA-SWIFT story raises questions of the legitimacy of the press. But it is parochial of us, in this thread, to treat it as a PressThink story, rather than a political one, generally speaking.
The fact is that the President and his supporters depend on a larger claim in this discussion, larger than the tactic of press rollback.
We know the rhetoric of that larger claim: "everything changed after 9/11, we are a nation at war, if we cannot fight it in secret, American lives are put at risk, it is the duty of the Commander in Chief to decide how to fight the enemy, the permanent emergency has exposed old rules as quaint."
The point Priest was making is that if those claims are true, then Barringer's argument does not hold. Current activity can, indeed, be disentangled from the nation¹s founding identity, because "9/11 changed everything."
Karl Rove, speaking for the White House, explicitly makes this case: those who do not treat the current situation as a long war and do not grant the Commander in Chief the indefinite deference such a war demands are suffering under a delusional pre-9/11 mentality -- liberals who see Salafist terrorism as a law-enforcement problem.
Arguments resorting to traditions of press freedom explicitly contradict the Rovian claim, since they argue that, even after 9/11, openness trumps secrecy, oversight trumps executive power, and individual privacy trumps homeland security -- even if "American lives are put at risk" in the process. However, First Amendment advocates are hardly in the forefront here, they are one group on Rove's wrong side among many -- civil libertarians, Congressional Constitutionalists, international lawyers, even airline travelers who resent having to take their shoes off.
The Catch-22 of all this is that the truth or falsehood of Rovian claims cannot, by definition, be tested, since the act of testing them would in itself invalidate them. It would mean that we do not "trust the judgment and solemn word of the Bush Administration" and were therefore trying to turn the clock back to a pre-9/11 mentality.
If the point is that the SWIFT story is not news, then that's a political judgment, not a news judgment.
Example: the NYT story on Wikipedia proclaiming that the online encyclopedia had changed its policy on allowing edits. But articles on John Kerry and George Bush were frozen for most of the 2004 political conventions. So is it news? The SWIFT story strikes many the same way. There was already information out there. Lisa Williams said. (Not picking on Lisa, just using her comment as an example.)
The information was out there in bits at different places. But when it appeared in more details in the NYTimes, LATimes, it was news to Lisa. Because Lisa said, earlier:
My main reaction to the revelation that the government was monitoring SWIFT was, "Duh! Of course they are!I'd be kind of upset to find out that they weren't"
Let's leave out the national security argument for now. The fact that government officials have mentioned tracking money, or that it had appeared at CounterTerrorism Blog, it's still news so a lot (a majority) people who don't read the CounterTerrorism blog. It's news to the majority of readers of those newspapers. It is news by definition in any newsrooms.
Conservatives don't make the argument that the SWIFT story is not news. Because if it's not news, then they can't make the case that it harms national security. In the Plame leak, conservatives argued that it was not news, she was not covert or everyone in the DC cocktail circuit knew she worked at the CIA, i.e. no national security implication.
Let's stipulate that the SWIFT story is news, then we're back to how to cover a classified war, Jay's thesis. Is the public harmed when the Post tells us about secret prisons in Europe or that the NSA is wiretapping or datamining our phone calls? Should we trust a government who said there was WMDs in Iraq?
Government action is far more damaging than press action. Printing incorrect stories about prewar intelligence pales in comparison to using that intelligence to lead a country to war. (The government gave the media the faulty intelligence.) Operating secret prisons in Europe is far worse than writing about the prisons.
I think the coverage of the classified war debate is a political debate too, more so than a freedom of the press debate. If you trust this government, then you say, no don't print. If you don't trust this government, then you say yes, tell us about its secrets (even classified) and conduct of the war. I don't think the coverage-of-the-classified-war debate can be done in theory or in a vacuum. It's hard to remove politics from it.
It’s true that the New York Times makes for outstanding culture war theatre, but I think election-year tactics do not explain the severity of the storm. More is involved.
The more is Rollback. It's been argued that the press hasn't adapt to the new rules that the WH changed on it. But then what other institution has been able to handle this regime, certainly not Congress, not even the court until recently, not the electorate. I believe that this WH is an oddity with Rollback, never to be seen again in its severity.
The press is fighting to secure (but not defend?) its legitimacy. It would run the NSA, European prisons, SWIFT and Plame stories if they involved any government, even Democratic controlled ones. The press is fighting for legitimacy with the audience and TPFKATA. The audience is larger than the TPFKATA at this stage. The audience is the silent majority, the paying customers, the ones that subscribe to the papers. TPFKATA are freeloaders of content in the current platform.
Would a neutered press, self-alignment with the establishment, the monied and the powerful, print those NSA, prisons, SWIFT stories? How do you explain those stories. Bucking their bosses every now and then?
Andrew Tyndall asserts (emphasis added):
… publication of the CIA-SWIFT story raises questions of the legitimacy of the press… to treat it as a PressThink story, rather than a political one, generally speaking.
If by political, he means partisan, then I find this an example of PressMisThink. Continuing…
"The fact is that the President and his supporters depend on a larger claim in this discussion, larger than the tactic of press rollback."
Here, Andrew mischaracterizes the objections by narrowing them to this one claim, and associating it with Bush supporters. One need not be a supporter of the president to object to the release of secrets, and there are many who do not support Bush but are horrified by the behavior of the press. Additionally, are a number of factors, many of them common sense and historical, buttress the argument against releasing secrets willy-nilly.
… "everything changed after 9/11, we are a nation at war, if we cannot fight it in secret, American lives are put at risk, it is the duty of the Commander in Chief to decide how to fight the enemy, the permanent emergency has exposed old rules as quaint."
The claim many assert is not nearly this broad. Rather, during any war, the nation must be especially vigilant in keeping its secrets. 9-11 dramatically demonstrated the existence of a pre-existing war, but didn’t fundamentally change the need for keeping secrets during a war. There were indeed permanent changes (major historical events have that effect) but primarilyh in the necessity to recognize a new threat - the existence and determination of loosely organized, non-state suicidal megaterrorists, successfully targeting the United States, and their potential for acquisition of WMDs.
Painting arguments as partisan is a dangerous way of thinking, but an effective rhetorical tactic. Once viewed as partisan, an assertion is then treated by the careless and partisan as false, which is logically erroneous. In 2004, I honestly identified myself as an anti-Kerry partisan, and found that many consequently treated all of my arguments and assertions as automatically wrong and irrelevant. Those who value an intellectual tradition should guard against this gross failure of critical thinking.
Additionally, many object to the indeterminate "long" nature of this war, and pin it on the administration or refuse to accept the Administration’s use of it in argument. Unfortunately, neither Americans nor the Administration started the war, and the end is only determined by subsequent events, not political calculations. This is a state of the world, not a political ploy by the administration. That it changes the argument about secrets, however, is undeniable and worth exploring, but not in a purely partisan sense.
Andrew’s reasoning exemplifies what appears to be an attitude of the press I previous challenged: the politicization of everything - the idea that this war is a political construct, the determination of policies is purely a partisan matter, and arguments and assertions are only as good as the people who make them.
Finally, "Catch-22 of all this is that the truth or falsehood of Rovian claims cannot, by definition, be tested," is itself a good argument for caution - for not releasing secrets if we don’t know if these claims are true (although in fact there are many more assertions to consider). It is better to be careful with lives than to require proof of danger as a condition to not publish.
Personalizing the war and the reasoning as "Rovian" is to ignore the larger issues. The wisdom of releasing secrets is not a result of what Rove says (although his privileged access means his statements should be considered).. Rather, it is the consequences - not political, but of security (and civil liberties) - are what matter.
I still think there's some interesting difference between a story that's compilation of publically available facts and a story like, say "Ken Lay, Founder of Enron, Dies at Age 64," or a story which relies heavily on inside sources, unnamed or not.
Compilation-based stories are interesting because they bring up the question of "what is news?" in a way that the other two stories don't. It's hard to argue that the facts themselves in either the Wikipedia or the SWIFT story are news: the facts aren't new, and are publically available. So what's the news part? If it's not the facts, then it's the *compilation itself* that is news. But that comes awfully close to saying "these facts, in this order, are news because I say they are."
Now, slow down a minute! I think news judgement is valuable. It's just that I don't always agree with it. Sometimes a collection of facts that seems like a story to an editor doesn't seem like a story to me.
My point is that news judgement plays a much larger role in these types of stories that, I agree with you, ARE fundamentally about compilation. After all, if the bar is simply, "It's news if people don't know about it," then how to tie a fly1 for fishing should get a shot at being on the front page. I'm sure that what you mean is that it should be new to most people *AND* meaningful.
The Wikipedia story I give as an example wasn't news to me, and I was bewildered that a story about editorial policies at Wikipedia was significant enough to land on page 1 of the Times, though I'm a big fan of Wikipedia. As a user of Wikipedia, I didn't think the policy change was all that significant, so I thought it was strange to tell the mass of nonusers that it was Really Important. In short, it seemed like weird news judgement to me. *Shrug.* The people making the decision about what to put on page one have a different opinion; that's fine.
With the SWIFT story, I'm not the only person in this thread whose reaction was, "of course they are."
For a compilation story to be news to a reader, they have to believe that the news judgement -- the editors of the paper saying, "this is news" is correct. The two stories I mention here don't seem like strong stories to me on that basis. The Wikipedia story seemed like making a mountain out of a molehill, and the SWIFT story seemed obvious.
Some compilation stories are brilliant, and I think the future will see more and more of them. I just don't think these are particularly good examples of the form.
1. I recently bought a couple of fishing rods for myself and my kids, so an article on this would be timely. Well, at least in the Lisa World Journal.
What the hell is a classified war?
Are there any examples of wars that were not classified? What in fact do we regard as classified, from a journalistic point of view?
Newspapers publish classified data that is disclosed to them by people who have the authority to disclose such information. Has it thus been unclassified at that point?
Classification itself is conducted by the Executive. The decision is often based more on politics than national security. If the press is supposed to be independent, why should it take the governments word for it when they say certain info must be kept secret?
Who elected the press to make these decisions?
That question is irrelevant. The press gets its rights from the Constitution, not the ballot box. What a dreadful thought that voters, or worse, legislators, might be empowered to delineate the rights of the press.
The press' responsibility is to bring matters that are of interest to the public to the public's attention. Sometimes they will screw up, but who doesn't?
And what of Official Leaks?
If the press can be criticized for disclosing classified info it uncovers, should it also decline to publish classified info that the government brings to it? This admin plants stories with classified data all the time, but only complains if they are not the source of the leak.
Just today, there is a a story that Rep. Hoekstra sent an angry letter to the president because he was not informed of an intelligence program the admin has been conducting in secret. Is this program classified? If the White House didn't tell Hoekstra about it, who did? Was that person authorized to leak it to the congressman? And what about the New York Times publishing Hoekstra's letter?
This is the most secretive administration in history. They have classified more documents than ever before. In the past year, they have been busy reclassifying thousands of documents that were previously available for years. And they want us to trust them?
Like Jefferson, I'll take newspapers without a government.
I think one point about covering a classified war that hasn't gotten much attention in this thread is that fighting a classified war under the current definition also means the press doing its part in fighting the information war--releasing official disinformation when it is most politically convenient and protecting official government sources that lied to you and burned you. The press really is a central theater in the classified information war, not just a referee regarding declassification of material.
That is to say, the rules of the game are: Print official leaks and one-sided declassified material even when demonstrably false and it appears to serve an exclusively partisan political interest, but never print inconvenient but demonstrably true material if it hasn't been leaked officially/off the record by the Executive branch even if the best interests of the nation appear to be served by its release.
There is an active press complicity with following the rules just as there is an active press complicity with challenging the rules. When the official rules are patently unconstitutional, that makes it all the more fun.
Will the press support the constitution? Or will it support the Bush dictatorship? This adminstration forces its citizens and its press to choose between obeying the laws of the new order or obeying the US constitution. It requires hard choices. Securing legitimacy in the eyes of those who believe in the constitution at this point requires sacrificing legitimacy in the eyes of the pro-Bush audience. Securing legitimacy in the eyes of those who are happy with the posture of our self-proclaimed dictator requires sacrificing legitimacy in the eyes of those who still believe in the constitution. It's really that simple.
But the press has managed to create a worse case scenario (a little like Lieberman running as a "petitioning Democrat")--releasing disinformation on behalf of the executive branch and later turning around and releasing incriminating information on the executive branch. These actions require sacrificing legitimacy in the eyes of both sides of the debate. A true lose/lose proposition. This sort of behavior reveals a lack of interest in press legitimacy as well as simple cowardice.
A press concerned with legitimacy would take the Fox route or the principled route. It wouldn't try to take both routes at the same time.
"He said, she said" journalism starts to get comic when the press is faced with issues like: "Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney say the gloves have to come off and international law is a luxury we can't afford, but the sources throughout the CIA and the Pentagon say the gloves off policy has been a catastrophe and a US Supreme Court filled with Republican appointees and the Red Cross say this administation has been in violation of the Geneva Conventions for five years now and that the people held at Guantanamo are prisoners of war under US law until a legitimate court rules on their legal status."
He said, she said journalism is another way of going the Fox route and the principled route at one and the same time. Any press outlets with a concern for legitimacy must scrap it immediately.
The self-proclaimed unitary executive has created a constitutional crisis. I don't recall the press requesting that the executive branch start acting like there is only one branch of government.
How many stories have congressional supervisory committees now been briefed on only after the news they existed was broken by the press? That is not democracy. It would be a serious constitutional crisis even if our national security wasn't in the hands of Howdy Doody.
The country is polarized. One woman's legitimacy is another woman's treason.
What's maddening about the Post and Times is how they've played both sides of the classification war, they leak the official disinformation and then five years later when most of the damage is done they half-heartedly report a few of the lesser outrages. I'm not impressed. The most positive thing I can say is that it's better than unqualified capitulation.
At this point, there must be reporters with whiplash trying to figure out which leaks are official disinformation and which not. "Just tell us what you want us to do!" the Judith Millers of the world must be shouting to themselves late at night.
Are there any examples of wars that were not classified? No.
What in fact do we regard as classified, from a journalistic point of view? News business sources and methods are classified. Everything else falls under Northcliffe's maxims and Mr. Dooley's wisdom:
- Journalism: A profession whose business is to explain to others what it personally does not understand.
- News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.
- Th' newspaper does ivrything f'r us. It runs th' polis foorce an' th' banks, commands th' milishy, controls th'ligislachure, baptizes th' young, marries th' foolish, comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable, buries th' dead an' roasts thim aftherward.
Mr. Fuller writes: "The crucial thing for journalists to recognize is that their trade does not exempt them from the basic moral imperatives that guide all other human relationships. If they depart from the general standard, they must have a good and precise reason to do so. Pursuit of truth is not a license to be a jerk." In all too many newsrooms, that statement would resound like a three-bell bulletin.
Newspapers publish classified data that is disclosed to them by people who have the authority to disclose such information. Has it thus been unclassified at that point?
Newspapers publish classified information disclosed by people who have access to that information. That is not the same as the authority to disclose it. It must be declassified before it can be disclosed publicly by anyone with access.
If the press is supposed to be independent, why should it take the governments word for it when they say certain info must be kept secret?
That, detective, is the right question.
If the press can be criticized for disclosing classified info it uncovers, should it also decline to publish classified info that the government brings to it?
Sure. Don't publish. Or, do publish. Just don't ask for special immunity post-publishing above that of a citizen's first amendment right to publish classified information. And especially don't claim special professional privileges while refusing professional standards and responsibilities.
Like Jefferson, I'll take newspapers without a government.
Mark Howard starts out with a good idea, but quickly goes off the rails. He is right that all wars are classified. General Patton commanded a non-existent army right before D-Day. That information was obviously classified, and the secret helped make D-Day a success. Winston Churchill's sacrifice of Coventry was mentioned before. The Manhattan Project was wrapped in secrecy and deception. Furthermore, secrets were classified during World War II for political reasons, but at least the press avoided publishing them.
What makes this war different, among other things, is the willingness of the press to publish war secrets. Mr. Howard thinks that is just fine. Mr. Howard is dreadfully wrong.
"Who elected the press," of course, is not meant to be taken literally. Mr. Howard misses that point. It means that the press has arrogated powers unto itself that properly belong to the duly elected government.
Contrary to Mr. Howard's apparent belief, the press is given very little by the Constitution. Specifically, SCOTUS holds that the Constitution prohibits the government from acting in prior restraint. However, by not providing immunity to the press, it explicitly holds the press to the same standards as any other citizen when releasing classified information.
The issue of official leaks is raised, as well it should be. The wrong conclusions are drawn, however, and official leaks should never be conflated with illegal leaks.
When the executive leaks, authorized by appropriate powers, that is not a violation of the law. It may be done for political reasons, or it may be done for war-related reasons. No matter how offensive or unwise the leaks, they are legal and within the democratic powers of the leakers.
The New York Times now has a number of people who admit to committing serious felonies - who are in fact proud of that. Does Mr. Howard advocate that citizens violate whatever laws they dislike, or does he hold the press above the law, and above the ordinary citizen?
Given the arguments defending the press for its various felonies and damaging releases of information, what is the response if TPFKATA publish the names, addresses, phone numbers and other private information about the members of the Times? TPKFATA have exactly the same constitutional rights to do so. TPKFATA may find some excellent reasons for releasing such information - why should the Times be allowed to keep secrets when those defending us are not? Is there a symmetry here?
Mr. Howard does us all a service, however, in showing that characterizing the current conflict as "a classified war" is absurd.
This is as a war conducted by an administration apparently so hated by members of the press that they cannot view it as legitimate, and hence show few qualms about damaging the war efforts, sometimes justifying their illegal actions through civil liberties absolutism, but always finding some excuse for betraying their country.
Of course, all of this begs the question that Jay asks. I think this is inevitable, because as much as Jay wants to avoid it, the central issue is to publish or not to publish secrets - which ones and why. That issue simply cannot be addressed without debating publishing decisions - fruitful or not.
Finally, this thread is full of very nasty attacks on the current administration. Those of us who disagree have so far been restraining ourselves in responding to those attacks.
Make no mistake, however - those defending the press and at the same time making extreme charges against the administration are only speaking to themselves - the great echo chamber of the main stream media. The rest of us, seeing attacks on the administration instead of reasoned argument, have our negative view of the MSM decision making process reinforced by this behavior.
Scott Crawford --
Your post is almost entirely premised on the assumption that Ben Bradlee knew of Mark Felt's identity during the 18 months of the Washington Post's Watergate reporting.
He did not. Bradlee did not learn of Mark Felt's identity until after Watergate concluded with Nixon's resignation.
From a Thursday, June 2, chat with readers on washingtonpost.com:
Columbia, Md.: Mr. Bradlee, as I understand it, you knew Deep Throat was an FBI official, but you never asked about his identity.
If this is correct, I have to ask -- given what was at stake, how did you decide to display such an extraordinary amount of trust in two very young reporters, who did not enjoy anything near the prominence they enjoy today? How could you be sure?
Thank you for your service, both militarily and at the Post.
Ben Bradlee: I didn't know Deep Throat personally. I never met him. I did know -- generically -- where he worked. That was the Justice Department, which of course included the FBI. I did not know he was the number two person in the FBI. But the important thing about Deep Throat from day one was that he was telling the truth. Everything he told us was true and in that sense that was all I needed.
After Nixon resigned I felt that some people were threatening the bonafides of our reporting and I thought that I had to know Deep Throat's identity. Woodward and I went for a walk down to McPherson Square and I asked him for Deep Throat's name and he gave it to me. Took about three minutes.
Woodward and Bernstein were, in fact, very young and green but they were right. I was under some pressure to put one of the many talented veterans on the story but how could you take the story away from people who were doing such a good job? I couldn't answer that then and I can't now.
John: You seem to shrink from saying that a classified war shouldn't be covered at all. Why?
A "classified war" means almost everything about it is classified, folks.
All wars are classified? No, not in that sense. All wars generate lots of secrets that need to remain secrets, yes. The number of soldiers fighting in Iraq is not classified (135,000 is right, I believe; if not someone will correct me.) Try to find out how many people are fighting the war on terror, so called.
Donald Rumsfeld is clearly the Administration official in charge of the Iraq War; he has operational authority and Bush has executive authority. Who is in charge of the war on terror? Who has operational authority? I have no idea. Do you know? One suspects it is Cheney. Was it ever announced?
You can go to a Pentagon briefing to find out how the war is Iraq is going. Can you go to a briefing and find out how the war on terror is going?
I think it's ludicrous to compare the level of secrecy and opacity in the "war on terror" to secrecy during conventional wars. Why Mark Howard would suggest it and Tim would agree is beyond me.
Steve: Here's an off topic essay I recommend, Alan Wolfe, Why Conservatives Can't Govern. Right at the end he says something you would appreciate: "As the Bush administration fully proves, conservatism remains a force of opposition even when it purports to be a governance party."
It occurs to me that this is also a factor in the recent storming of the press castle. Conservatives need opposition to their attempt to govern because they cannot govern (they hate government too much, Wolfe argues.) Right now, they lack opposition within government, so they have to find it outside. The press works beautifully.
Finally, I liked this from Krugman on Friday: "And while the White House clearly believes that attacking The Times is a winning political move, it doesn't have to turn out that way — not if enough people realize what's at stake."
John: You seem to shrink from saying that a classified war shouldn't be covered at all. Why?
A "classified war" means almost everything about it is classified, folks."
Well, in that case, Jay, I don't know about that war. What classified war? Are we in one? Three?
Which war is that? GWOT? Two major theaters of the GWOT are the actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. I suspect you know quite a bit about them. Then there’s the Proliferation Security Initiative - a hardly secret multilateral operation to interdict WMDs. Many other aspects are public, unfortunately including some that shouldn’t be (such as the rendition programs or the NSA wiretaps). Is "almost everything" about that war classified?
Let’s be serious. GWOT (or whatever it is called these days) is a multi-faceted effort by a wide range of organizations and countries. Are you complaining there is no single spokesman with handouts to give you at daily Washington Follies? Do you want a single numerical scale so you can tell if the home team is winning? Do you believe some instinct for secrecy is keeping that from happening? Just what is your problem?
But on to your question. If a war is 100% classified, it probably shouldn't be covered at all. But I can't imagine a 100% classified war. Classified operations - yes, but wars? WARS? Nope.
I thought when you wrote about covering a classified war, you were referring to the current GWOT, not some war that is completely secret. Was I wrong?
On to your off-topic diversion. I started to read Wolfe's article, but its absurdity became clear within a few paragraphs, so I just skimmed the rest. How does it fit into a discussion of how to cover a "classified war?"
Oh well, it's your blog, and if you want to link to poorly reasoned attacks on Conservatives, go for it. Of course, a little reading of conservative journals, which have been discussing the issues confusedly argued by Wolfe, would give a much clearer view of the subject - one dramatically at odds with Wolfe's ill informed rant.
"Right now, they lack opposition within government, so they have to find it outside. The press works beautifully.
Your theory on why conservatives are going after the press is, well... amazing. I'm trying to be polite here…. But… well…. I just can’t stop ROFLMAO! Please accept my insincere apologies ;-)
Seriously, we didn't just start attacking the press recently. We have been unhappy with the MSM for a very long time; we know the press has been biased in an anti-conservative direction for decades.
The recent sharp criticism of the release of classified information, however, is motivated by our disgust, shock and horror at the behavior of the press. Some bizarre need for opposition is hardly the reason we object to illegal actions dangerous to our nation.
But let’s look at this idea of no internal opposition, which is required to support Wolfe’s nonsense about conservatives being unable to govern (tell Ronald Reagan about that, eh?).
For example, Bush has never been a small government conservative (remember "compassionate conservatism?)". Not all conservatives are for minimal government, although most of us distrust large government. We are not silly libertarians, who fail to realize that the inefficient and untrustworthy government is actually necessary for some important things - most notably defending our country.
Perhaps Wolfe is applying to conservatism the rule applied by the left to itself: ideological uniformity. That doesn't exist on the right - we have many variants - social conservatives, the old fashioned big-business conservatives, national greatness conservatives, hawks, libertarian conservatives, neo-cons of various stripes, etc. We even have very serious discussion of pro-choice, anti-gun Rudy Giuliani as a 2008 candidate. Can you imagine the left nominating an openly pro-life, pro-gun presidential candidate?
It's a big movement, Jay, which is one reason we have a governing majority - in spite of the best efforts of a nearly monolithic press. And, because it is a big movement, it provides plenty of internal opposition, although why we would need opposition escapes me.
John -- You failed to answer my question: "Is there ever a point ... ? " When, in your world, does the press move beyond being something more than a collection of Pentagon and White House press releases ?
My apologies, I didn't notice the question.
My answer is simple: I don't think the press should ever be just a collection of Pentagon and White House press releases. Heck, if that's all it is, it's not needed - we can get that information directly off the internet.
However, if you are implying a dichotomy between a press release tamed media, and a reckless war secrets revealing press, then I have to vigorously disagree.
The press can do many things outside of being a government lapdog without revealing national secrets to our enemies. I would hope that nobody needs instruction from me on the details.
Unfortunately, the MSM has chosen a position of opposition to the government. In a time of war, such a position must be done with extra delicacy, careful judgement, and deference to our laws and our democratic system of government. We can look to World War II for how the press did not try to undermine the government, or to Vietnam for how it successfully undermined it, handing to the enemy what they failed to gain on the battlefield.
But this war is more important than Vietnam. This war involves the probability of devastating attacks upon our nation - as demonstrated by 9-11 - but potentially much worse. The threat of nuclear armed terrorists is no longer merely a James Bond plot. Rogue nations like Iran and especially North Korea, teamed up with true enemies of western civilization - Islamists - can execute devastating attacks on us - killing hundreds of thousands of Americans and crippling our economy in a single blow.
The press, through its reckless disclosure of secrets, is literally playing with nuclear fire. That is inexcusable.
As far as I can tell, members of the MSM believe (among other things);
-Bush is a budding dictator, determined to use his powers to illegally suppress enemies
-Bush and his crowd use the war on terror to further their nefarious political (or business) aims, and as an excuse to gain dictatorial powers.
-Even though Bush was elected in a democratic election, and the secrecy laws were passed democratically and have been vetted by the Supreme Court, the administration's classification of information has no legitimacy.
-Privacy (as one example) in international communications is such a precious civil liberty, that a minor protection of that privacy is worth increasing the risk of nuclear terrorism - even when there is no evidence that any damage was intended or done by surveillance.
-Members of the press can, and should, violate the espionage laws of the United States over and over again, and publish secret information knowing that our enemies will use it. They should receive Pulitzer prizes for their treachery.
Mark Howard, before Jefferson stop reading newspaper, he used them for partisan purposes, according to Infamous Scribblers, Eric Burns.
Newspapers during Washington's era didn't publish his war plans, but they were pretty brutal on him as a general and a president, according to Burns.
Lisa, I'm not sure if blame is the word. (I didn't mean it that way. I thought I wrote it very neutral, but you read blame.) Newspapers can't figure out how to serve the web audience and generate a profit. It's a conundrum. Newspaper can't ignore the web audience either, because that is the future, the immediate future.
Studying Internet companies during the boom, the Net was generally winner takes all, or the top site were head and shoulder above the rest. Then the winner loses to a change in technology. AOL won the ISP battle, the dial up battle that is. Amazon won the e-commerce (the purely online store with no brick and mortar) and Yahoo won the portal. Broadband displayed AOL, among other AOL problems. (AOL acquired Time Warner, and now AOL barely exists). I think Amazon is still the dominant etailer. Google comes along and overtakes Yahoo, but Google is a different company and technology, not a portal.
I believe the change for newspaper companies will come in a way that we can't foresee, (or we can't imagine.) In 2001, if you told me that Google would become a dominant technology company, challenging even Microsoft, I wouldn't have believed you. Google software preinstalled on Dell computers. How could a search engine do that? (I'm no expert in technology and haven't followed new developments for a few years.)
If you compare political blogs by traffic, the same phenomenon applies, the leader is head and shoulders above the rest. (The Kos Diaries should be added together with the State of the Nation.)
Conover summarized the left/right differences in an email:
What I find interesting is the way that the left and right approach blogs. Look at the top two right wing bloggers: Reynolds and Malkin. No
comments allowed. The top liberal bloggers all allow and encourage comments. Righties go to Reynolds and Malkin and Powerline to get the day's
zeitgeist and then go back to their own blogs and amplify the message. Kos and Atrios and Digby and Drum and Corn and Marshall are building what amount to online communities. You read there, you write there, you comment there.
That bears out in the link metric.
A friend at the N&O, (my last stop in journalism) said car dealerships are buying less ad space at the paper and spending instead on other web sites such as WRAL, which posts N&O stories recycled through AP. A TV website taking newspaper content and car-ad revenue, which was a virtual monopoly for newspapers with the auto sections, listings and ads. That ad money now is more fragmented.
About the resistant to change, it's human nature for one thing. And little has changed in newsrooms for decades, even as they switched from typewriters to computers. The computer system before the web was purely for writing and editing. I could have never been a reporter in the typewriter era, with my bad grammar and spelling. I need to move phrases and sentences easily.
I watched All the President's Men this weekend (netflix) for the first time in years. (Hal Holbrook who played Deep Throat looked a lot like Mark Felt.) Redford and Hoffman as Woodstein were using typewriters. There was a scene where Bernstein was in Florida, and saw the name of a Kenneth H. Dahlberg on a check to a Watergate burglar. Bernstein called Woodward from a pay phone to tell him about Dahlberg and for Woodward to find out who he was before the NYTimes. Woodward was looking in various phonebooks in the morgue (newspaper library), and a librarian said there was no clip file on Dahlberg, but there was a photo. The photo cutline had something about Minneapolis, so Woodward looked in the Minneapolis phonebook and found the listing. He called and talked to Dahlberg.
Today, Bernstein would have googled and found Dalhberg likely in seconds, and when he calls from his cell phone, Dahlberg probably wouldn't have picked up because he wouldn't recognize the number. Later, Woodstein got a CREEP employee list and they went knocking door to door. That would not change today.
But I'm not sure what you meant here, if someone brings up an issue, they say, well, that person's an exception, most of our readers aren't that smart. Can you be more specific about the change that they are resistant to. Cite and example offered and resisted?
Hue: She means that your typical newspaper journalist has a frozen description of the people formerly known as the audience, which is really a prescription for how they "should" behave; and when presented with evidence that their description of people is wrong, or crumbling, or inadequate, your typical newspaper journalist says it cannot be, because after all the prescription is still the prescription, but it comes out as a description of the people out there, which tends to be quite bizarre, as in "our readers aren't that smart," which really means the audience should stay in its seats!
Lisa, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard replies like the ones you heard. Most of them are meant to "prove" that journalists doing what journalists do cannot be replaced, and that there's no need to change.
John: I already explained, with illustrative examples, what I meant by it's ludicrous to compare the level of secrecy and opacity in the "war on terror" to secrecy during conventional wars. If you don't find it convincing, well, that's horse racing.
Your statements ("As far as I can tell, members of the MSM believe...") are all incorrect. If you actually want a window into what you would call MSM thinking, try the Robert Kaiser piece I linked to.
Tim: Priest was employing hyperbole, yes. Not everything in the war on terror is classified. I interpreted her statement as "basically, this is a classified war, so how do you expect us to cover it?" I still think it's a good question.
Richard Siegal: The post describes "press authority" as resembling a castle under siege. It does not suggest press people live in castles.
By the way, can anyone make sense of the Wall Street Journal editorial I discuss with links in "After Matter?" I have read a lot of bizarre editorials in the Journal over the years, but there was something especially deranged about this one. Got any clues to what was it was trying to say?
What makes this war different, among other things, is the willingness of the press to publish war secrets... The press, through its reckless disclosure of secrets, is literally playing with nuclear fire. That is inexcusable.
I would say that what makes this "war" fundamentally different from other wars is that we must abuse the word "war" even to make it applicable to whatever the "GWOT" is.
Previous adminstrations paved the way way, of course (The War on Poverty, The War on Drugs, various "moral equivalents of war," yada yada), but at the beginning of this century it's just all "war," all the time: The Global War on Terror, the War on Christmas, Culture War, not to mention real live shooting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yes, the American people endorsed an aggressive international anti-terrorism doctrine in 2001. Calling it global war on terrorism was fine back then, but in a practical sense the global "war" on terror has been nothing but clever marketing ever since Tora Bora.
Sure, we're told Iraq is somehow an important front in the GWOT, about how we're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here, but this is damage control, poll-tested Meet-The-Press spin, and after more than three years of real, ugly, inglorious war, the majority of Americans are no longer convinced.
What is the GWOT? Well, for some people it's a chance to act out their resolute homefront fantasies ad infinitum. In these people's world, it is forever 1938, they are forever Winston Churchill and anyone who disagrees is simply the reincarnation of Neville Chamberlain. This is an extremely popular drama for about a third of the population.
What is the GWOT? It's a windfall for the defense industry that contracted at the end of the Cold War. Today we're in the middle of spending $2.8 billion to convert four Trident nuclear submarines into stealthy "anti-terrorism" commando platforms. Whatever happened to fiscal sanity? What absurdly expensive retrofit of a politically popular weapons system will we get next?
The classified vagueries of the GWOT allow imagination to trump practicality every time. Nineteen guys with box cutters on one very bad day five years ago today equals the impending destruction of Western Civilization by Islamo-fascists, equals "playing with nuclear fire." Right. Welcome to the Department of False Equivalency.
So is this classified war really a war? Only if you believe the people with the classified information who say that it is, and we did, back in 2002, back when those same people were telling us to trust them about WMDs and African uranium. Those people lost credibility, but they still demand our trust.
Their actions betray them. If it's a real war, then why did we cut anti-terrorism funding to New York City while increasing the amount spent to defend Montana? If it's a real war, why did the administration try to gut the Operation Seahawk port security program? Why are we the only country to color-code our "Terrorism Alert Level" so that any real terrorists will know when we're not paying attention?
Is it a classified war? Yes, according to the people running it. In fact, they think it's so classified, so super-secret, so high-stakes that normal checks and balances on government power must be rendered obsolete.
Which is why I think that, in addition to arguing about how the media should be covering this classified "war," we should be acknowledging that effective control of the mass media is one of this "war's" unstated objectives. Call it Rollback, call it the Retreat from Empiricism, call it whatever. But listen carefully: the White House is now joining the Noise Machine in telling people that the media is the enemy, on a par with Bin Laden. The tension is being racheted up.
How does a journalist cover a classified war? Well, gee...how does a Wall Street analyst cover a corporation now that the law prohibits corporations from disclosing material information to favored analysts and investors before making it publicly available?
Did Wall Street all of a sudden fire every analyst on the books? No. Because only the worst and laziest analysts worked that way.
Certain kinds of operations are ALWAYS classified, in real-time, regardless of the war:
Cryptography operations and SIGINT.
Human intelligence activities, including both sources and methods.
Ongoing and pending operations.
Critical vulnerabilities of weapons systems.
These are classified regardless of the war. It so happens that in this conflict, they are the decisive factor, rather than a supporting or ancillary one. That's simply the nature of this conflict, and the nature of assymetrical warfare in the modern era.
The alternative, of course, would be to turn the whole thing into a purely conventional fight. Which would be extraordinarily bloody on a scale not even currently contemplated, orders of magnitude more expensive in terms of money and materiel, infinitely more destabilizing, and far less effective.
It would be a stupid idea, of course. But it would make it easier for our precious journalists in the short run.
In the long run, though, a lot more of them would be dead. Along with a lot of other people.
And every sensitive classified program that's ratted out by irresponsible journalists pushes us towards an inappropriate conventional paradigm. Because every terrorist that is NOT monitored, isolated, identified, or killed as a result of information gained through SWIFT (where even one of our posters here argued there is no expectation of privacy, which destroys the Times' position), or phone data, or what have you, will have to be defeated some other way.
And finding him some other way may take longer, and allow him to carry out his murderous plans (or support those who do), or force some security guard with a wife and family at home into a shootout when we could have nailed the rat on ground of our own choosing by picking him up on a routine traffic stop.
Regarding the institutional press--the Fourth Estate--you argue that the legitimacy of such a modern invention derives "not from the Founding Fathers but from the opinion of living Americans" that an independent and truthtelling press is vital as a check on government power in a democracy.
That is also true about Congress and the Supreme Court, despite the specific check and balance roles spelled out for them in the Constitution as contrasted with the broad protections of the First Amendment. If Members of Congress, Senators and Representatives, do not have the will power to stand up to executive authoritarianism, and their legitimacy is severely discredited in popular opinion to the point where there is no pressure on Congress to act, then the Constitution (Articles I and III) is not very relevant. Ditto, the Supreme Court in its willingness to check runaway power under the rubric of a national security state operating in secrecy; and public expectations that it has the power to do so. There is nothing revolutionary about this argument, unless the goal is to make the President a king.
Unlike post-WW II presidential power-- backed up by a vast military and civilian bureaucracy--manifested in the imperial presidency, there is nothing self-executing about legislative OR judicial power. Thus, all the more vital the role of a free press in exposing the underbelly of government.
Indeed, as Rosen suggests, the White House strategy for “rolling back” an independent national press is at the center of the “reclamation and expansion of executive branch power.” In “changing the game” on Washington journalists, the Bush/Cheney administration would change the overall balance of power among separated institutions sharing powers, and in the body politic.
The Fourth Estate (“the gotcha press”) becomes the lifeblood of free government during a largely classified worldwide war on terror networks. How can the concepts of legislative oversight and judicial review survive, otherwise, against “unreality based” (non empirical) rule? Victory over “facts on the ground” must be denied. Rosen: “Executive privilege [is being] exerted on the terrain of fact itself.”
How should an independent press cover a classified war? Full steam ahead with investigative journalism. No less than our Madisonian system of government is at stake. Never forget, the White House, too, is operating on limited knowledge.
William E. Jackson, Jr.
You raise good points which need to be answered.
First, this war is unlike any previous war that I know of, because of the combination of the following:
-The enemy is diffuse, - the war is really against followers an ideology (Bush finally stated - correctly - that its a war against Islamism, not terrorism). In that sense, it is more like a "war on Naziism." There is no way to point at a nation and say "There's the evil enemy." There are concentrations of mass that are important in this war, but some of enemy may be a "home grown" group next door. Understanding this war requires breaking old habits of thinking, of "connecting the dots" to recognize a radical new threat:
-The enemy is willing to sacrifice himself and hundreds of millions of his fellows to achieve his goal. A number of our enemy have stated this at different times.
Suicidal individuals with advanced technology are extremely dangerous, as the US learned with Kamikazis - human guided cruise missiles.
- The enemy’s goal is conquest of the world for a pre-modern sect of Islam, with religiously authorized savagery and violence.
-Weapons of mass destruction are more likely to be available to terrorists than in the past. In the bipolar cold war, nation states with WMD's kept them out of the hands of terrorists for good reasons.
Today, failed states like Saddam's Iraq, and crazy states like North Korea and Iran are/were able to acquire or build WMDs, and potentially willing to give them to terrorists. Technology has advanced, making WMDs easier to construct. Oil money available to our enemies allows them to buy expertise and outsource WMD construction (e.g. centrifuge factories in Malaysia). Furthermore, some kinds of chemical and biological weapons can be created by the terrorists themselves, due to advances in biotechnology. Aum Shinrikyo made and released both Anthrax and Sarin. Al Qaeda is likely to be far more successful in the age of the internet and low cost biotechnology.
These factors and others (demographic war in Europe?) pose an unprecedented danger. We don't face attack from conventional warfare, or even conventional nuclear warfare - but we face potential devastation from asymmetrical warfare - terrorists armed with WMDs, anonymously aided by rogue nations.
So is this classified war really a war? Only if you believe the people with the classified information who say that it is, and we did, back in 2002, back when those same people were telling us to trust them about WMDs and African uranium. Those people lost credibility, but they still demand our trust.
Personally, I don’t let any politician or newspaper define the situation, but you seem to imply that this is only a war if the government, now discredited in your eyes, says it is. Nonsense! As an aside, many of the critiques in this thread imply that those of us attacking the release of secrets are puppets, with Karl Rove pulling our mental strings, rather than independent thinkers - often critical of government policies - who arrive at the same conclusions as the executive. Is that how the left operates?
The Administration is hardly unique in declaring this conflict to be a "war." Many people, including myself, immediately said "This is war" when the second aircraft hit the second tower. Currently I am reading an autobiography of a New York cop, and when the 2nd hit happened, the shouts rang out from his break room: "this is war." To us, it was and is obvious. We are faced with a significant new danger, which is a highly brutal asymmetrical warfare waged against us. Some of us have no trouble recognizing a war when it is thrust upon us. Others, apparently, do.
It hardly requires access to classified information to see the outline of this war. Our enemies are happy to advertise their intent and capability. They were demonstrating their ruthlessness and organization, targeting us, since the 1979 act of war in capturing the US Embassy in Tehran. They showed it in bombing the Marine Barracks in Beirut (to which Reagan’s reaction was sorely inadequate). They showed it throughout the ‘90s, and they showed it in the barely thwarted plot to bomb LAX at the millenium. Ironically, much of their nature was disclosed by their first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 - when they obviously attempted to kill tens of thousands of people - revealing a change in the goals and attempted scale of Islamist terrorism.
9-11 stands out, not because it was a lucky shot by 19 killers, but because it was the most dramatic and deadly - so far.
Back to reporting… This war is not classified. That it exists is obvious. That it has grave potential is obvious if you pay attention to what the enemy is saying, and follow the public information about their global activities and attitudes. The same enemy that set off synchronized bombs in Bangladesh bombed the London subway. Journalists are doing their jobs around the world - providing us the dots to connect.
Finally, please don’t let Bushatred or the failure to find WMDs in Iraq confuse you about the enemy. Don’t let the government’s perceived ineptitude in fighting the war mislead you. You may dislike or totally distrust the administration, as is your right. But keep an eye on the enemy as you make editorial decisions.
I'm sorry, Lisa - and Jay - but the characterization of the media as arrogantly dismissive of the public based on a few conversations isn't convincing. But then, I really have no idea what this 'typical newspaper journalist' looks like.
I've been doing this 30 year and I'd never say there weren't character flaws. But I never heard arrogance of the type you describe aimed at readers or some variety of 'those people out there' that dismisses them as too stupid or foolish to understand the news we report.
Indeed, the most compelling advice I ever got was from an old boot-strap editor who hammered away that we should never forget the reader. That we are their surrogate.
Now clearly that that position is fading fast and there is substantial confusion in journalistic circles - particularly senior editors and publishers about the explosion of ways for those people to both receive and transmit news.
And if you don't think that has them in a panic, along with shrinking circulation, 24/7 news and stockholders frantic to hold on to those 15 to 20 percent profit margins, you haven't been reading the same memos.
Read almost any professional journalism publication and its filled with articles from managers all aswivet over 'enhanced localism' zoned editions and whatever else the consultants and focus groups say they should try. Internet? Jesus, everyone is trying figure out how to transition to digital news - and generally falling on their face.
What gets lost in this? Reporting the news to our readers. I think you're dead on that the current administration doesn't want that, in terms of the current war on terror. How it's being conducted. How it affects the roots of our American experiment. And how much money is being sucked up by the Hoover of Homeland Security.
No one elected the media to watch government. It's the price of the 1st Amendment protections. And if the media falter at that job, just as Congress and the Courts abdicate their Constitutional obligations, where do the fans on increased secrecy of how the government SAYS it fights our open-ended and classified wars think that will leave the people? Or do they particularly care?
No 'expectation of privacy' destroys the government's position well before it destroys the Times' position. Firstly, it means that the terrorists know the government is watching,
No it doesn't. That thinking is sloppy beyond measure. One does not follow from the second. First of all, "expectation of privacy" is a legal term of art. It has never meant that the assumption is that the communication is compromised - only that the subject has no right to expect that it will not be. Huge mistake.
For example, I can have a conversation with someone in a cafe. I can have no expectation of privacy. I can also work under the assumption that the FBI is not monitoring me. I would do so because I do not believe I am suspected of anything.
You are also assuming an efficient information market. That assumption is, quite bluntly, ridiculous.
There is no reason to assume that because SWIFT is known to exist doesn't mean
so they are unlikely to try anything stupid.
Blind conjecture without basis in fact. First of all, people who don't think they're suspected of anything do stupid stuff all the time. We know this from long experience. Criminals are often very stupid. And Al Qaeda draws many of its ranks from among the stupid.
We also know that the Treasury Department asked the Times not to publish specifically because it would jeapordize three ongoing investigations.
So obviously, your premise that the terrorists already knew we were able to monitor transactions between foreign banks is falsified, not just retroactively by the capture of the Butcher of Bali and at least five others thanks, in part, to the SWIFT monitoring program, but also looking forward as well. After all, if your ridiculous postulate were to be accepted, one would expect precisely zero previous arrests, and precisely zero compromized investigations going forward.
Your position is falsified by evidence that is now (wrongly) readily available
So, there may be a deterrence effect from the surveillance but little entrapment.
Silliness. Deterrence is NOT what we want here. And there had been, and continues to be, "entrapment" (to adopt your misuse of the term.)
And why was there "entrapment" [sic]? Because the flow of information to Al Qaeda is deliberately not efficient, and Al Qaeda is not itself an efficient processor and distributor of information. (Indeed, were it to try to become so, it would quickly compromise itself.)
(in fact if you like the deterrence effect, the Times' story actually helps this by making it known widely that the users of SWIFT are being watched).
Well, I don't like "the deterrence effect" here. And your resorting to that argument is indicative of the sheer desperation of your position.
There is no reason to assume that "deterrence" works to our advantage here. Obviously the professionals didn't think so, or they would have been shouting it from the rooftops from day one.
The fact that we were leaning on domestic banks is no secret. But the fact that we had tapped into networks abroad certainly was. And if the relevation deterred anything, it deterred bankers from cooperating with U.S. monitors. Brussels, for example, is "investigating." (If the program were such common knowledge, as the Times asserts, why would there be anything to "investigate?"
Secondly, if there is no expectation of privacy,
that applies to the government's surveillance as well, and consequently, the Times is free to talk about it publicly.
No, it also does not follow. The law specifically prohibits the press from publishing classified information relating to communications intelligence. Bank wires are communications.
Show me, in the text of the law, where it provides safe harbor based on an "expectation of privacy" criteria.
If you cannot, your assertion is specious.
I wonder what Al Qaeda is thinking while listening and watching our debate on the SWIFT story?
UBL, a video on that topic and on this one please.
On Oct. 29, 2004, just four days before the U.S. presidential election, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden released a videotape denouncing George W. Bush. Some Bush supporters quickly spun the diatribe as “Osama’s endorsement of John Kerry.” But behind the walls of the CIA, analysts had concluded the opposite: that bin-Laden was trying to help Bush gain a second term.
If you knew that running a particular story had a high probability of getting one hundred American soldiers killed, what public good--let's have some examples--would justify running it? Presume, for this discussion, that the president is a democrat.
Geez, you really think the press would print a story knowing it would definitely put American lives in danger? Editors print these stories because they don't believe it would. Editors have held numerous stories that you don't hear about. Just in the same way we don't hear about real terrorist plots that the government stopped, if revealed might tell terrorists we are on their tracks.
This from one of the editors who published the Pentagon Papers.
JIM LEHRER: Did you ever run a story that was in that area and then regretted it afterward; that you thought that you might have hurt somebody--
BEN BRADLEE: No.
JIM LEHRER: --or hurt some cause or some--
BEN BRADLEE: No. Automatically, if anybody's life was involved, you never touched it. But they had to convince you that somebody's life was involved. You know, just because they said it didn't necessarily mean anything.
Holding a story for nationa security reasons
JIM LEHRER: Ben, what responsibilities do journalist have to protect national security secrets?
BEN BRADLEE: National security is a really big problem for journalists, because no journalist worth his salt wants to endanger the national security, but the law talks about anyone who endangers the security of the United States is going to go to jail. So, here you are, especially in the Pentagon. Some guy tells you something. He says that's a national security matter. Well, you're supposed to tremble and get scared and it never, almost never means the security of the national government.
More likely to mean the security or the personal happiness of the guy who is telling you something.
JIM LEHRER: Telling the story?
BEN BRADLEE: Because, you know, if he gets caught, why, he may not be so secure. He may be out on his tail.
JIM LEHRER: You must have had some tough calls.
BEN BRADLEE: Yeah, let me give you an example. The United States, at one point, developed a fantastic bell that they lowered to the bottom of the ocean floor to cover a Soviet cable and it was the cable through which the Soviet Government was communicating to its agents all over the world.
And, in fact, they were so sure it was secure that it wasn't even coded. So, when we lowered this bell--it was called Ivy Bells. They lowered it down over the Soviet cable. They put a cartridge of, you know, just like you do in your tape recorder. Some diver stuck it in there and recorded and recorded and recorded, until, you know, they ran out of tape and they sent another diver down.
The "Post" heard about this. I never heard of it and I was stunned. I was interested and I was also saying there is no damned way we were going to run this if it was still operating. So, we didn't run it. Anyway, I didn't get much of a beef out of Woodward. But a couple of months later, he came in and said, Ivy Bells is missing. And it turns out that the Soviets had discovered this bell over their cable and they said, well, you know, what the hell is this and removed it.
JIM LEHRER: The Soviets took the bell away?
BEN BRADLEE: The Soviets took the bell away.
JIM LEHRER: Okay, all right.
BEN BRADLEE: And the last time I heard, it was still on exhibition in Moscow. And so, then I thought that we were absolutely free to write it. You know, it wasn't risking any security. We just didn't have it. The Soviets had obviously taken it. So, they knew we didn't have it. We weren't telling them anything they didn't know. And Casey, the head of the CIA, raised absolute hell about it.
Some scattered thoughts on what is a very important issue. No, if, it is very important to the intellectual - and every other kind of - growth of this country.
The very fundamental point in all this is that today's audience / readers, especially with the rise of the Internet and so many choices, has changed. It can be argued, convincingly, that it is a change for the better. Many more people have a voice now. But what it has done, in my opinion, is made it even more likely that people will drive themselves towards news and ideas they already agree with.
So much so that their idea of "news" has changed.
There's only so much time in the day and reading about how you're a genius for agreeing with X, Y and Web site Q is much easier.
And those who venture onto other sites to disagree very rarely do so with any honest intent that they might change their minds.
So when something comes across the wire a person doesn't agree with or approve of, in a very real sense it is NOT news to them and they can vigorously attack the messenger as not reporting "real news."
Politicians and government officials come at it from a different direction. In a particular instance they have lost control of the flow of information. Of course, they will demonize those who have obtained some of that control. not always in proportion to the importance of that information.
Today, at semmingly no other time, the "people in power" have a vast crowd of supporters who would like nothing better to limit the news they don't agree with.
Generalizations all, I realize.
Also, I can't understand how the Wall Street Journal remains out of the scope of the critics who think this story should not have seen the light of day. Or to refine that sentiment, I cannot understand how they legitimately remain outside the scope of criticism. That is unless I consider my first "All The News That Fits Me" idea.
Jay, give us a break with your faux-outrage. It is a lame way of dodging John's substantive points. As if you've never engaged in any rhetorical hyperbole because it felt good.
And here in this thread we have adolescent invocations of Orwell, and authoritarianism, and "King" George. Village Idiot lives in a fantasy world in which American citizens are being disappeared off the streets.
Historical precedents of other wartime presidents such as FDR, Wilson, or Lincoln are ignored, but we're supposed to take advice from Jimmy Carter's arms control advisor! (How's that SALT II coming, Bill?)
In the original post, Jay defined the "storm" in terms of the following dichotomy:
If you don’t trust for a moment the judgment or solemn word of the Bush Administration
If you don’t trust for a moment the judgment or solemn word of the New York Times and its editors.
But it is clear -- not only from this debate, but from the last five tumultuous years -- that the actual dichotomy is between those who perceive Al Qaeda as the greater threat, or Bush. Bush-hater par excellence Jonathan Chait makes the point explicitly this weekend.
This, too, is not without precedent. In every American war, there is always a coalition of ostriches, paranoids, and America-haters who oppose the President more than our enemies. Some in the South still feel Lincoln was a tyrant. America First-ers such as Lindbergh believed that FDR was a greater threat to our liberties than Hitler ever was. Opposing NATO, Robert Taft said the same of Truman. Same with nuke-freezers like Helen Caldicott vs Reagan. And John Kerry, who I believe served in Vietnam, stated essentially that the American government and forces were worse than the VC or NV, whom he estimated would not commit massacres upon taking power.
You may not have noticed, but these voices are always proven wrong.
I raise all sorts of serious issues, and you insist on trying to read my mind. You waste an entire long post on it. Does that have anything to do with the issue of covering a classified war? Could it be that you are unable to answer the many substantive issues raised? Here’s a list, for your review. Some I can defend much more strongly than others:
-anonymous unauthorized leakers of classified information are behaving in an anti-democratic manner
-the press is abetting this anti-democratic criminal activity
-the press is committing felonies, repeatedly violating national security laws, and conspiring with others to do so
-in doing so, the press is acting as vigilantes, per defensive motivations asserted here
-the Supreme Court has held that the press does not enjoy immunity from prosecution for these felonies
-the press is doing so without (at least in most cases) having shown harmful abuses of the disclosed programs
-contrasting the press behavior with the Valerie Plame affair with its behavior regarding other leaks suggests to many of us that partisan motives are at work
-the press, even though it seeks legitimacy, is not behaving well enough to be regarded as responsible American citizens
-the excuse that the SWIFT revelations revealed nothing to terrorists presumes knowledge on the part of terrorists that you don’t have
-in wartime, dramatic sacrifices may be necessary in the name of secrecy
-the press too often covers events in Washington from a cynical viewpoint which admits only political and personal motives
-one need not be a supporter of Bush to object to the willy-nilly publication of secrets
-9-11 demonstrated an important change in the state of the world and the type of war unleashed upon us
-that this war is indeterminate in length is not the fault of the administration, and is no excuse for releasing secrets
-authorized leaks do not excuse unauthorized leaks of classified information
-should the TPFKATA publish the names and private information of the NYT members the way the Times publishes the secrets of our government?
-members of the press apparently hate the administration so much that they do not consider it legitimate, and hence have few qualms about damaging the war efforts
-this war is unlike any previous war I know of for (reasons given)
-one need not rely on government statements to know if we are in a war
-some members of the press should be prosecuted (for the release of secrets)
-newspapers seem to be acting as vigilantes
-abuse of secret programs might be a case for exposing them
-how should the issues of felonious press behavior be addressed in the SPJ Code of Ethics?
You exhibit a common fallacy. That a court has not adjudicated these felonies does not mean an assertion of them is wrong. "Innocent until proven guilty" is a legal principle only. If you think they are innocent, it would be better to provide your reasoning. There is ample evidence (unless the press is lying to me) - it is a felony to publicize certain kinds of information, and the New York Times published it. Now either a genie popped out of a bottle to operate the computer, the material was not classified, or human beings at the Times committed felonies.
Thanks for finally coming clean about your worldview.
What is factually wrong with the following statement?:
They were demonstrating their ruthlessness and organization, targeting us, since the 1979 act of war in capturing the US Embassy in Tehran. They showed it in bombing the Marine Barracks in Beirut (to which Reagan’s reaction was sorely inadequate). They showed it throughout the ‘90s, and they showed it in the barely thwarted plot to bomb LAX at the millenium.
The problem is that you have lumped together several different "theys" that have no connection to one another other than your ignorance or lack of interest in distinguishing one Muslim from another. In your fevered mind, these completely unrelated "theys" are in a conspiracy against us! It's OK John, you can relax now.
The first "they" were Shiite nationalists in Iraq overthrowing the Shah who was installed by the CIA in place of their democratically elected Iranian president, Mossadegh (Why can't anyone in the Middle East aside from Israel manage to build a democracy again?), primarily because big oil was unhappy about nationalization (watch out Hugo Chavez).
The "they" involved in the LAX bomb plot were the Sunni Wahabbists of Al-Qaida who would rather shoot Shiites than talk to them because they consider them idolators. They want to wipe the Shia from the pages of history.
Given that the central issue in Iraq is a civil war between Shia and Sunnis, in the current context your ignorance or disinterest in distinguishing Shia from Sunni is like not bothering with the difference between Protestants and Catholics in the French War of Religion.
They're all Christians, damn'em all to hell. You are still fighting the crusades.
Thanks for the more specific confession of the ignorance your diatribes are routinely grounded in. Sadly your ignorance is shared at the highest levels of the Cheney administration.
If the Cheney administration's implementation of your ignorance doesn't serve to unify sworn enemies like the Sunnis and the Shia against us, it will be no thanks to you and your boys in the Cheney administration--no thanks to the triumph of classification over facts on the ground.
Am I glad Seymour Hersh has been spilling the beans that idiots like you are busy hatching what passes for US foreign policy out of their fevered and ignorant imaginations (and those of the American Enterprise Institute)?
Has he been fighting an uphill battle against the collaboration of the institutional press such as the Washington Post and the New York Times with the Cheney administration from the start?
(Hersh was supposedly exiled from the pages of the N.Y. Times, apparently to make room for prodigies like Judith Miller.)
How should the press begin to recover the legitimacy they've surrendered with their collaboration in the information war against the American people in 2003? How should they cover a war involving information classified by people living in John Moore's fantasy world where the spectre of civil war between Sunni and Shia morphs into a conspiracy of all Muslims against the US?
The first necessary step would be to consult a reference or two on Middle Eastern history, religion, and politics. The second step would be to draw the logical inference from what they would learn from those references--learn to tell the difference between Shia and Sunni and stop listening to militant idiots like John Moore and his fellow travelers in the Cheney administration.
That's quite a rant, Mark A. Too bad it is oversimplified.
There is a lot more to the issue than Shia vs Sunni. For example, in Iran there are both Arabs and Persians. That is a source of conflict. In Iraq, clan ties are often as important as religious affiliation. The relationship of Iranian Shia and Iraqi Shia is complex. Marriages between Sunnis and Shia are not uncommon in Baghdad.
The Islamist philosophies (which you apparently incorrectly equate with Islamic theology) are both Shia and Sunni. Even though Sunni and Shia have been at odds since the founding of Islam, they cooperate (with friction) in the new Islamist jihad. Who do you think supplies the modern IED's to the Sunni terrorists? Yep - the Shiite Persians. Who else supplies aid to the bad guys in the "Sunni triangle?" Yep - the secular Baathists of Syria. Who has goals for replacing the world's governments with Sharia theocracies? Both.
But others have had the same confusion - many thought that Al Qaeda would not cooperate with Iran because Al Qaeda is Salafist and Iran is Shia. Oops... not true, as we now know. They thought Al Qaeda would not cooperate with the Iraqi Baathists because they were secular - oops. Wrong again. Zarqawi enjoyed Baathist hospitality in Baghdad before our invasion, and enjoyed lots of Baathist support afterwards. Oops again. Secular (but sorta Sunni) Saddam had intelligence contacts with Al Qaeda years before 9-11.
Now we could go back to your over-simplistic two party world, and look at the war on terrorism that way. Wonderful. THen have two enemies, both of whom use suicide tactics and both of which want to replace the world with an Islamic Califate - Iranian Shiites and Sunni Islamists including Al Qaeda. Does that make you feel better? It's simpler, so I suspect you will enjoy it.
Finally, a little parable about the Middle East...
A scorpion and a camel were at the edge of a river.
The scorpion asked the camel to carry him across the river.
The camel replied "But why should I do that? You will sting me and I will die."
The scorpion responded "But then I would drown. I won't do that."
The camel acquiesced, the scorpion climbed on his back, and the camel started swimming the river.
Part way across, the scorpion stung the camel.
The dying camel said "Why did you do that! We will now both drown!"
The scorpion replied "It's the middle east, stupid."
The problem with your theory is that it is overly simplistic. You've learned that there are Shia and Sunnis in the middle east, and that there is a long history of violent disagreement between them. Congratulations, you now have a factoid and are therefore an expert. You might even get extra points if you know that the Wahhabis are a small sect of the Sunnis who are at the heart of Al Qaeda. You get extra credit if you can explain the relationship between the Royal Family of SA and the Wahhabis - and how the princes get away with drinking alcohol, for example. Then you can perhaps explain the relationship of The Muslim Brotherhood, Zawahiri, Wahhabiism, Baathism and Al Qaeda.
There is an old principle which you apparently don't know: "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Guess what! The Islamists know it.
So before you launch any more diatribes based on the assumption of ignorance, you might refine your own knowledge a bit more.
Oh, and by the way - the CIA's emplacement of the Shah is really irrelevant these days, but I'm not surprised that you throw it in - it is such fun to show how evil America is - right?
Mark Anderson: Authoring five out of six posts in a thread is not cool. Please don't do it again.
Well, the big name journalism deans have weighed in. See When in Doubt, Publish by Geoffrey Cowan of USC, Alex S. Jones of Harvard's Kennedy School, John Lavine of Northwestern, Nicholas Lemann of Columbia, and Orville Schell of Berkeley (July 9). Some quotes:
It is the business -- and the responsibility -- of the press to reveal secrets.
Journalists are constantly trying to report things that public officials and others believe should be secret, and constantly exercising restraint over what they publish....
The public wants the press to keep a sharp lookout, but wants the job performed responsibly. We share this sentiment.
In the case of the stories about financial data, the government's main concern seemed to be that the hitherto cooperative banks might stop cooperating if the Times disclosed the existence of their financial tracking system. So far, that apparently has not happened.
For many Americans, however, the possibility of damage to terrorist surveillance should have been sufficient justification for the Times to remain silent. Why, they ask, should the press take such a chance?
There are situations in which that chance should not be taken. For instance, there was no justification for columnist Robert D. Novak to have unmasked Valerie Plame as a covert CIA officer.
We believe that in the case of a close call, the press should publish when editors are convinced that more damage will be done to our democratic society by keeping information away from the American people than by leveling with them...
We believe that the extraordinary power of the presidency at this moment mandates more scrutiny rather than less. Yet Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has said he would consider prosecuting journalists for publishing classified information. Such an action would threaten to tilt the balance between disclosure and secrecy in a direction that would weaken watchdog reporting at a time when it is badly needed.
Schell is also a PressThink author, see his J-Schools Have to Get More Involved from July, 2005. This new piece is an example of what he meant.
Sigh. I'm glad the five men spoke up in a situation of some urgency, and I would like to see more of that. I wish their statement added something to what has already been said in defense of the press, but alas...it does not, tracking closely with the letters from Keller and Baquet, and never deviating from the consensus view in journalism, in which "that's a difficult balance to strike..." is supposed to represent the agony of thought.
Some would say originality is too much to hope for with discourse by committee. Probably so. But I'm also glad I didn't have to decide whether to sign this statement.
I agree with much of what you stated here, Neuro Con. Many stories, editorial decisions, and op-eds in papers like the NYT and LATimes make much more sense if you view their POV as being based on the belief that this administration and its decisions present very grave threats to us, perhaps more than anyone/anything on the outside. Some of it appears ideological but I also think that that it’s simply easier (in the practical sense), in our open society, to get information that confirms that POV. You can “prove” just about anything if you have access to lots of data. I’m sure it’s difficult in Iran or Egypt to “prove” that Israel may have legitimate grievances, for example.
The question for me is a simple one, and I like how Jay presented it at the beginning of this piece. I need raw data. I need analysis. I need “news interpretation.” Where do I go? What will make a news source “legitimate” for me?
Some examples (in no particular order, perhaps not the best, and sorry not a lot of links) …..
Independence I didn’t like that whole Armstrong Williams thing, and I don’t take much stock in what George Stephanopoulos, ex-Clinonite, says on his news reports. I also don’t like seeing that reporters contribute to the campaigns of politicians and then write about political issues. I also want reporters who are independent from MSM group think, their own “peoples in charge.” That problem’s on its way to being solved, thank god, since you can report on your own blog. But, since it’s often difficult to be completely independent ...
You damn well better be ...
Transparent And tell me up front about any potential conflicts of interest. Dana Priest’s story about the NSA prisons was weakened for me when I read about her and her husband’s ties to people like Joe Wilson and Mary McCarthy. Even if only a small amount of that info was correct, it should have been revealed earlier and responded to. My gosh, that kind of stuff just gives more credence to the belief that reporters and politicians and special interests are all in bed with each other.
Another example of independence/transparency gone awry...
I also want to see original documents, entire interviews, and names of the sources used. I was glad that the NYT linked to the original Hoekstra letter in this story, for example. It gave me the chance to see more than only what the reporter thought was important. That ultimately makes me trust the reporter/paper more (in theory, at least, maybe actually not yet but it’s a start and I’m open minded so who knows).
Verification It goes without saying that your facts have to be accurate, but I’ve been waiting to see the corrections and ombudsman sections of newspapers expanded to full sections and given as much space as “Food” or “Cars,” for crying out loud. Good Grief. I hate reading a tiny correction on the last page several days later of a story that was entirely premised on incorrect data to begin with. Don’t even bother. I’m also waiting for the NYT, WaPo, USAToday, LATimes, someone else to pick up on the translated Iraq docs that the Captain has been reporting on so I can get separate verification on those (I agree with you there, Richard.). I like to verify stories from more than one "outlet" but I’ll be waiting forever, I’m sure.
And on the topic of editorial decisions that would make me trust papers like the NYT more ... ? Well, it would be the opposite of this:
If I had to guess, Tim, why they didn't go with the business section the answers would be: our competitors were chasing it and would front page the story, this is "front page news" (circular, yes, but that never stopped them in the past), and the reporters would go ballistic being denied the front page for a story of national import. ---Jay
I’m sure that’s an accurate assumption but no less untrustworthy.
The bottom line....
Accept that reasonable people agree that we need an active and agressive legitimate press, even in time of war. The debate of whether this war is classified or not is necessary but slightly off-track.
If we had as legitimate a press as we need, one we could all (heck, I'd settle for most) trust at least as much as the government, we'd be at a different place in the debate. That's what's really scary, actually, if you think about it.
How do we get it? And fast? That's the real problem.
Added to the Huffington Post version of this piece:
Also involved is a tendency noticed by Paul Krugman, who said this in a 2004 interview with Buzzflash:
For four years now, some of us have been saying, whether or not you think they're bad guys, they're certainly radical. They don't play by the rules. You can't take anything that you've regarded as normal from previous U.S. political experience as applying to Bush and the people around him. They will say things and do things that would not previously have made any sense -- you know, would have been previously considered out of bounds.
Now if you actually tried to render this situation in news coverage, the journalism you'd end up doing would also be considered out of bounds, not by Bush supporters but by journalists themselves. New rules would have to be devised for covering radicals in the White House who are trying to roll back the press, vastly expand executive power, evade normal oversight. The adjective "conservative" would become inaccurate for describing Bush and his team, and its routine use would have to be discouraged.
There would be no way to describe the resulting changes in practice--from the old system used in covering Bush the elder and Clinton to the new rules necessary for Bush the younger--as merely "editorial" rather than "political." And no matter what they tell you, fear of looking "too political" is a constant for denizens of the newsroom, an internalized warning system that's second nature to most. It's not Hugh Hewitt's voice they hear, but their own.
In a word, it would take balls too big for the press to react in proportion to what Bush and company are actually doing. Mainstream political journalism is a system that falls apart when deviant or radical behavior overtakes centers of power. It isn't capable of throwing out the playbook when confronted with a new threat, because it doesn't have any other playbook and it can't stop the presses long enough to work one out.
Once this pattern sets in, denial comes with it. That's how you get "What isn't new here seems more significant than what is." That's why we have an op-ed from Keller and Baquet that talks about "tension" between government and press but mysteriously fails to mention the Bush strategy of de-certifying, attacking and polluting the press with misinformation. And that was supposed to be their effort to fight back!
Journalists are very alarmed by the current campaign against the Times, and for good reason. But even deeper than their sense of alarm is the desire to believe that an old operating system, based on what they have "regarded as normal from previous U.S. political experience," can handle the new data. The countervailing thought--that it can't--just fries their circuits. This solution doesn't work, but it would be too expensive, too messy, and above all "too political" to come up with a better one. So political journalists stick with what they know, and look with awe at the fury directed against them.
When, where, who I trust …. I consume. Even (and especially) if it costs me extra time or money to do so.
As much as I love to start my morning reads in a certain order (e.g, this month it’s usually Drudge, CNN, WaPO, Powerline, Captain’s Quarters, Malkin, Kos, Slate, etc.), it’s never permanent. I look for quality, transparency, verified data, independence. If I could go to an online NYT or WaPo and see an entertaining clearinghouse of the critiques and sidebars to the previous day’s or week’s stories, believe me I’d consume that every day in a flash. What if the NYT in a “Ongoing Stories" section (which also includes critiques and corrections) on the Hoekstra story linked to the “JustOneMinute” analysis piece I referred to earlier. Now that would be efficient for me and my time. And it would build my trust because it would show me that the NYT isn’t afraid and it’s actually risking something to truly look out for me.
I’m convinceable if I trust you. I’m deaf to you if I don’t.
Partisans will say, “Oh no, people only believe what reinforces what they already think….” Sorry, I’ve never bought into that. I think most reasonable people are persuadeable to some degree on most issues.
If you want to convince me that being in Iraq is bad (or good), that secret NSA prisons are bad (or good), that there’s never been any WMDs, not nohow not noway, that all wars are classified to some extent (or not), that, really, Bush has so radicalized the world that everyone should focus their energy on strategies for combating that (or him) ....
.... you gotta first get me to trust you.
It isn't capable of throwing out the playbook when confronted with a new threat, because it doesn't have any other playbook and it can't stop the presses long enough to work one out.
Mark Anderson: "This last comment seems to come very close to surrendering hope for mainstream political journalism ever coming to terms with what they face. Do you?"
I am just about there, the point of surrendering hope, as regards the press ever coming to terms with the Bush White House's press and political "project." That is with rollback and the enlargement of executive power while simultaneously making it less legible. I think that is basically not going to happen while Bush is in office. But we will continue to see investigative work like Risen's, which is itself a big deal.
Surrendering hope does not mean surrendering analysis, I would add.
In a way the system failure makes sense. What are the chances that the next president will "lapse" back into the Gergen consensus? Pretty good. You could say it's happening now with Snow and Bolton. So from the bureau chief's point of view: You keep the "old" operating system, you get mauled for 5-6 years, and then a more conventional politician is elected, Democrat or Republican, and your system isn't old any more, if fits perfectly, so what have you really lost?
I would argue a lot: you lost your compact with readers because you didn't level with them about getting mauled. Plus: Bush is gone, Powerline remains. The assault on the press castle isn't going to stop.
However, the picture may well change after Bush. In 2009-20012 lots could come out and be told--or learned in tranquility--by the press that would radically change the way journalists view 2001-06 and their own role in it. The Bush Presidency will itself undergo radical overhaul when the books by insiders appear.
If the next Administration continues with some form of rollback, or be-the-press strategy, that will affect views in journalism about what Bush was doing back when.
Also: Adam Nagourney and Dana Milbank don't think there is a thing wrong with their operting system and would treat most of what I am saying as bunk. Keep that in mind.
Even when the press is doing a kick ass responsible job and has the troops, it isn't getting anywhere near the real story of executive action. It's not a first draft so much as a very spotty first coat of truth. It doesn't cover.
Journalists at their best get a sketchy, patchy and drastically incomplete, half blind version of things, except in exceptional cases of immersion reporting. Often they have to admit in retrospect, "we didn't know what the hell what going on behind the scenes." The first coat doesn't cover it. Only later coats bring out the grain.
And so wave after wave of political story tellers and historians have to come after and... it's tempting to say "fill in the blanks" but this subtly tilts the picture to journalism's benefit. What happens as the Bush years recede from immediacy might in some cases complete a basically correct picture layed down by the beat reporters and correspondents day to day.
But it might not. Because sometimes the second and third wave narrators completely overturn the picture, and wreck the stories of the early chroniclers, or expose their illusions.
What if, to return to the bureau chief looking over the Bush presidency, in your normal portrait of a presidency you got 55 percent of it filled in in some fashion, and here you got 10? Should you notify your readers?
Isn't that you're theory? That the Times story laid bare this intrepid terrorist fighting tool, and hence rendered it ineffective. By that logic, shouldn't you be willing to eat crow the instant we have the next criminal captured with the help of money transfer related leads.
(blink blink) VI, your logic train is seriously uncoupled. Suppose someone is picked up next month on money-tracking evidence. I'll stipulate further that it is via SWIFT. I'll further stipulate that it is from an international SWIFT monitoring rather than a domestic one. That would in no way indicate that other investigations of other subjects were not compromised by the program.
If we were tracking 10 strong suspects, eight vanish from the radar screen following publication, and the ninth for some reason doesn't get the memo and screws up and gets caught, you don't get to jump up and down and point to him and say "See? We got one! That means the program wasn't really compromised."
I mean, really, VI.
You got one. When you perhaps could have caught three or four had the program remained secret.
As for me, I believe the Times story does not matter, because the Times is not disclosing anything secret
That's funny. I read it in the Times itself that it was. Look at the original story. The program is described as "Secret" almost a dozen times!!!! The Times obviously thinks it had a scoop: They put it on the front page. Hell, they called it "Secret" right there in the headline! Were they lying?
and furthermore that the Times was not bound by any laws that it should not discuss such a program in its paper.
There are some arguing that the Communications secrets act, narrowly constructed, would not apply here. I'm not convinced, though. Why would the act not apply? We're certainly monitoring communications, after all. Is that what you're arguing? Or are you trying to pretend the law doesn't exist? Or that somehow the Times is exempt from the law? I mean, not even Rosen believes that, and has been careful to so state.
Also, you fail to note that the "butcher of Bali's " actions were not prevented by the SWIFT sleuths.
This is your argument? That because SWIFT caught him and his cohorts after the fact that it is not effective? That nothing short of 100% success is effective? A 50% success rate, for example, is ineffective?
This is what passes for logic in your world?
Gee, I wish we were opposing counsel somewhere.
I could use the money.
Thanks for your very thoughtful reply to the "have you lost hope?" question.
As you say, many of the larger questions you raise, the relation of first-try deadline reporting to what we know later, etc., are a function of timeframes and information that only comes out once people leave office and aren't quite as exposed to retribution at their place of employment.
It strikes me that another layer to consider adding to a new blog-friendly model of political journalism would be to set up a newspaper-affiliated blog whose beat would be to expressly raise these sorts of issues, to ask, "Given what we've reported before, how might a longer term perspective require us to reframe a previous story based on what has emerged since?"
There are a lot of "stonewall-till-election day" or "confuse and distract the rubes" tactics that might be at least moderately reined by an approach along these lines. Froomkin tries to do this to some degree within bounds, but wouldn't it be interesting to assign someone to consistently ask questions such as: What have the dominant press narratives of this war, this administration, empirically been, as judged by what appeared in our pages? What do subsequent events or subsequently acquired information suggest we need to change concerning these previous stories?
Obviously we will get sharply differing answers to those questions from different reporters on this beat, but wouldn't it be fascinating to have an institutional place set aside to ask imperative questions like that?
I'm certain news consumers of all stripes are fit to be tied over the infinitesimal attention span of the institutional press as currently constituted (sometimes they don't seem to be able to carry a thought through an entire paragraph, let alone an administration). What news consumer would not appreciate some effort to address the black hole where institutional memory ought to be in political journalism today? I'm certain this would be considered roundly offensive by many occupants of present day newsrooms. Surely once it is explained that the whole idea is to acquire something like hindsight, however, it shouldn't be that threatening to admit that staff journalists who write the first draft can't know everything in advance. By definition they can't have known what has only come to light since their deadline passed.
Does something along these lines strike you as a good idea? Can you imagine anything like this flying at a major standard-bearer newspaper? No doubt it would require actually taking a stand and making judgements about truth, presentation, and performance. I'm also beginning to wonder if that's just too much to ask from the media as currently constituted. Perhaps we will ultimately have to start over from alternative platforms organized in different ways, different ways that include the reporting function.
As per your previous post, I suppose this would be something like trying to apply the Talking Points Memo model to national and international topics Josh Marshall and his staff don't get to. The idea would be maintain focus rather than simply sprint to deadline and call it journalism. I imagine this was once supposed to have been the job of the weekly news magazine. Sadly, most of them seem to have long since become newspaper reporting watered-down so it's fit for an audience with an attention span somewhere between that of the newspaper reader and the consumer of broadcast TV news. In other words, this niche could also be filled by a well-organized online news magazine. I'd love to hear about anything developing along these lines, because I'd like to read it.
Who's ready for a little semi-open-source thought experiment?
It started bothering me that we weren't answering my Big Practical Question, so here's my proposal. Give me your reactions here and at 4:00 I will make a decision.
I make a new post, a part two to this one, called How Do You Cover a Classified War? PressThink-ers Give it a Go
I write an intro that frames the question, and lays out a few of my own "how to" ideas, sufficiently suggestive to generate some initial interest.
The post is published and the comment section opens as usual. Participants agree to discuss not "the issue," but a more narowly practical question: what more intelligent ways are there for an independent press to cover a classified war? What new ideas are out there? How can it be done better? Got any guidelines that reporters could actually use? The "how to" is meant to be taken literally.
I monitor the discussion and "promote" the best and most original ideas to the front page of PressThink. They are headlined and bullet-pointed there, with links to the comment post's url.
These add up as the conversation rolls on.
After Matter turns into links suggested for After Matter by participants in the comment thread. I promote those to the front page too.
So you can participate by 1.) lurking in the comments and watching the post get created by a committee of the whole; or 2.) writing a post that answers the practical question How Do You Cover a Classified War?; or 3.) submitting a link for After that makes for a great post.
There's a 4.) Participants who are bloggers agree to promote the discussion at their own blogs. If we have enough participation, and an intelligent filter, we should be able to make a pretty good post that will get response because it has original suggestions and cool links and wide-ranging intelligence in it. Chances of getting journalists to check in would be high, if we have the goods.
Realize that this is a very simple mechanism: there's a post, it produces a comment thread, which produces diverse suggestions that are filtered by an editor into a highlight list that accumulates on the front page of the post. That's it.
As an "arc" cut from the blogosphere and press-o-sphere, PressThink participants are reasonably diverse, so they drive diverse groups of curiousity and suggestion-bearing users to the post, which shows up in the (highly filtered) product.
Where it really starts to get interesting is a later step, down the road: two volunteers from among PressThink users, one from each side of the Bush divide, become the intelligent--and demanding--filter and they promote the items. (Actually, the better number might be three, or two plus JR, but that's TBD.)
Who's game and what suggestions and reactions do you have?
But if you really wish to distance yourself from the Treason/Sedition narrative, now is your chance. Please loudly denounce the Treason/Sedition crowd and make the argument to them that at best it should be a simple law-breaking change.
Long since done.
By the way, are you now backing off from the claim that Mr. Amrozi was apprehended with the help of the SWIFT monitoring program, because I still have not seen any links/citations to support it?
Amrozi? The only person mentioning Amrozi is you. Amrozi was not the big player in that scheme. He drove the bus.
But the SWIFT program was, according to the New York Times and other, more reputable news sources, important in capturing a much bigger fish: Hambali.
An international banking database was used as a "vital tool" in the hunt for the prime architect of the 2002 Bali bombings, The New York Times reported today.
Riduan Isamuddin Hambali was captured in Thailand in 2003 after the CIA gained access to records from a Belgian co-operative known as SWIFT, or Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication.
So, yes, the SWIFT program was indeed effective. And this silly notion that every terrorist in existence must be assumed to have known not only that the US was trying to monitor bank transmissions, but specifically that the program monitored transmissions that did not go through US financial institutions whatsoever, is therefore falsified.
The program was effective. Even the New York Times conceded as much, back when they were asserting that the program was secret. If you can keep track of the (ahem) "operative statement" of the day over there.
Not only did SWIFT monitoring help capture Hambali, but it also helped round up Mohamed Mansour Jabarah, an Al Qaeda cash-bagger from Canada also implicated in the Bali attacks.
And his brother, killed in a gun battle in Saudi Arabia that year.
Then there's Uzair Paracha, arrested in Manhattan in 2003. (Why do they always choose blue areas to hang out in?)
Oh, and his father, too, arrested in Thailand.
That's just the outline. Patterico fills in some detail.
I think Amrozi went down the same way Timothy McVeigh did - they just ran a tag.
But the other six guys? You gonna argue that NONE of them were brought down, at least in part, on evidence gleaned from tracking financial data? Especially when at least one is specifically attributed to the SWIFT program and three more of them are specifically Al Qaeda money-launderers themselves?
Or do you think we just pick them up when some cops tell them to turn the stereo down and - "oh, hey, look! Bombs!"
Tim asks, through a link, whether journalists should be held legally accountable for leaks of classified material.
Specifically, media representatives should be held responsible for publicizing intelligence information—thus, making it available to terrorists and other US adversaries—that they know to be classified.
I know of no journalists who believe they operate outside the law. We're subject to the same laws as any other citizen. Indeed, most news organizations have some proscription against breaking the law to get a story. No illegal tape recording. No posing as a law enforcement officer, etc.
But the above link poses a extremely broad definition of breaking the law. It would cover everything from reporting detailed analysis of invasion plans to documents classified to disguise illegal political activity. Is that what we want?
Was the public good ill-served by reports of the Pentagon papers? Watergate? The Me Lai killings?
In context of the Times' reportage of SWIFT, let me ask - has anyone read the story? While it outlines the classified program, what is noticibly absent are specific details that would give our enemies useful knowledge. We're told that it exists but not how it works. As the story notes, President Bush has done as much in several speeches.
Cited as sources are 20 current and former government officials familiar with the program. Indeed, Stuart Levey, a key official at Treasury is quoted frequently by name after on the broad workings of SWIFT after, we're told, the Times opted to run the story over White House objections.
Where, precisely does this story that provides a history of SWIFT and a broad outline of its activities through the words of current officials help terrorist networks avoid detection?
Perhaps yelling 'treason' and concocting unfounded speculation about terrorist acts unfettered by the Times report makes some feel good. But it's useless in discussing how the press covers classified wars.
Amrozi was the bagholder of Bali. He was a minor player in the organization. Basically, a grunt. It was Hambali who had the contacts with the 'suits' at Al Qaeda, Inc.
I'm sure some called him "Butcher of Bali" when he was arrested. The alliteration is too powerful for a headline writer at the NY Post to resist.
But Hambali was by far the bigger bust.
Jason, Let me try this again; Once a crime is committed, every nation cooperates (even Switzerland) in investigating it. These are the normal criminal investigation channels. Using these channels to solve a crime is neither new nor is it a part of the SWIFT database sifting that we are discussing here. The Times story has no impact on this.
Let me try this again. The routine criminal investigations within the U.S. were not secret. What was secret was the extent of cooperation among foreign bankers (whether this was a relationship opened directly with bankers or whether we went through their governments first is unclear to me so far. Either way, it's a secret.)
We don't conduct threat assessments by looking in the rear-view mirror. (Well, I take that back. The idiots in the press corps do, except when it involves global warming).
The smart terrorists will assume that we are trying to find out the information. They need not assume that we're actually getting it from Swiss bankers, you know, ABSENT A HEADLINE FROM THE NEW YORK TIME THAT SAYS WE ARE.
Really, you're grasping at straws. Neither you, nor Keller, nor Baquet, were in any position to assess what was currently under investigation. They were all operating out of their area of expertise, with incomplete information, and making decisions on publishing with maybe 10% of the relevant information.
Not only did we capture Hambali and these other five malchiks (I should add that none of them other than Hambali were in legal hot water absent the tracking of their finances, so your ex post facto argument collapses there. In these cases, the program was successful in breaking up at least two rings, one was domestic, and that domestic ring was currently plotting to import chemical weapons for use in terrorist attacks.
That, VI, is NOT a "crime that already happened."
All surveying starts from a known point. Same thing with artillery fires, and the same with criminal investigations. So, too, with intelligence gathering. From there you can uncover points not yet known. Templating helps focus limited resources. But it was financial records that busted this guy in Manhattan, who was not otherwise known to be a criminal.
The Treasury Department specifically held that the Times ratting of the story compromised at least three ongoing investigations.
So it's been demonstrated that the program had been effective in the past (Hambali, et. al.), and vie the Treasury Dept., that we were using it to track the moves of suspected (or, perhaps, known) terrorists.
By tracking the moves of known terrorists, you can often uncover new terrorists, just like following a cockroach back under the sink.
What the Times did was prevent the U.S. from following the known cockroach under the sink to find the rest of them.
It is not neccessary to prove separately that there were cockroaches under the sink. You think these guys were wiring money to order pizzas?
So the program was effective in the past. It was effective currently. There was reason to believe, based on at least three current operations, that it would lead to further busts in the future.
What's next, you're claim that it didn't hurt us if you look at it from the f-ing 4th DIMENSION?
It didn't hurt us on the planet Uranus and therefore wasn't a secret?
You're drowning in rhetorical quicksand.
The NY Times itself stipulated, a dozen times, including in the headline, that the program was "Secret."
What part of "secret" isn't clear to you?
You have seen and heard the extremist stuff put out against the Times by the Treason crowd, and all you can do is link to an out of context 2004 piece? Where is the outrage? nothing less than a full throated condemnation of the 'Execute Keller' mob will do to atone for your silence in the face of a lynchmob's rants. I am looking for a beratement that convincingly puts clear distance between your own views and those of the lunatics. Can you do that?:-)
Not worth my time or effort.
I consider the position that the program that the Times described a dozen times as "secret" isn't "secret" as far more lunatic than that.
At least you can argue the treason case, or argue, as a matter of opinion and public policy, that we ought to have treason-like penalties for actions such as those committed by the Times.
Your position is flatly falsified a dozen times over, and is the equivalent of arguing 2 + 2 = 5.
The ONLY tenable argument you've got, which I haven't seen you adopt, is to argue that the secrets act only applies to communications intelligence and cryptology.
It's a long shot, because financial communications are very clearly arguable to be communications - but at least you are't trying to swim upstream against the facts and against the New York Times's own foolish, contradictory, and self-incriminating statements.
But the position you've taken is the lunatic fringe position. You've camped out with the Flat Earth society on this one.
Next time you take a position (i.e., The Secret SWIFT Program wasn't secret) and can't think of a single, specific data point from which to argue but have to rely ENTIRELY on theoretical constructs, think twice.
First the latter question. I don't consider the number of troops, types and designation of units, countries named or conspicuously missing, types of targets identified, status of timeline, title of the document and the level of detail (not) in the document as "weak on specifics." Tim Schmoyer at July 12, 2006 04:26 PM
This from the Times report on on DOD contingency planning for war with Iraq, July 2002:
For instance, the "Courses of Action" document does not mention other coalition forces, casualty estimates, how Mr. Hussein may himself be a target, or what political regime might follow the Iraqi leader if an American-led attack was successful, the source said.
Nor does the document discuss the sequencing of air and ground campaigns, the precise missions of special operations forces or the possibility of urban warfare in downtown Baghdad, with Iraqi forces possibly deploying chemical weapons.
The report also saids the contingency plan may involve an unspecified number of number of Marine and Army divisions, air expeditionary forces, ("As many as 250,000 troops-") and mentions mentions buildups of troops in Qatr and Kuwait that would be of no surprise to Saddam.
Your idea of what constitutes 'specifics' and mine vary greatly, Tim.
Frankly, having read the 2002 report, I'm not sure what value-added if provided Times readers. It strikes me more as something that was leaked to the Times to further the goals of the White House to put the fear of God into Saddam. The likelihood that the U.S. was planning an invasion and the generalized components of such an invasion would have been evident to anyone paying much attention to that part of the world.
Which was the part of my question left unanswered: What about when the White House (or DOD or whoever in government) leaks classified material to reporters to further political ends?
Our opponents, just like us, form a picture of our actions bit by bit. A particular small release may fill in a large picture. Maybe so, John Moore. In that case, what do you say to President Bush, who spoke about the SWIFT long before the Times reported it.
I'll post this here, although unrelated to Swift it is related to the 'holy profession' alluded to in the title of the post.
Here's a Wapo article by Robin Wright about a Khalilzad speech.
Here's the text of Khalilzad's speech.
Wright wrote: "I do not believe that what's happening could be described . . . as a civil war. But there is significant sectarian violence, there's no question about that," he said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ". . . There is a risk that the sectarian conflict will expand, state institutions will be overwhelmed. And that's what needs to be avoided."
Text searchs for "significant sectarian", "sectarian violence", "no question", and "overwhelmed" found nothing. So it's not a quote. She's putting words in his mouth.
Khalilzad said: A precipitous Coalition departure could unleash a sectarian civil war, which inevitably would draw neighboring states into a regional conflagration that would disrupt oil supplies and cause instability to spill over borders.
Wright wrote: Khalilzad also warned that a "precipitous" U.S. withdrawal could ensure a sectarian war drawing in neighboring states, disrupting oil supplies and expanding current fighting into a regional conflagration.
Wright used "ensure" when Khalilzad said no such thing. When I went to school, ensure meant make certain. Also his comment was about the "Coalition" not just the US. Very deceptive about what he said.
Wright wrote: "Given the risks of -- kind of an abandonment strategy for Iraqis, for the region and for the world, we need to do everything prudently we can to help them stand on their own feet, contain the violence," the envoy said.
Text search for "abandonment strategy" and "prudently" found nothing. So it's not a quote. More deception.
Khalilzad said: I will give my bottom line up front. I believe Americans, while remaining tactically patient about Iraq, should be strategically optimistic. Most important, a major change - a tectonic shift - has taken place in the political orientation of the Sunni Arab community. A year ago, Sunni Arabs were outside of the political process and hostile to the United States. They boycotted the January 2005 election and were underrepresented in the transitional national assembly. Today, Sunni Arabs are full participants in the political process, with their representation in the national assembly now proportional to their share of the population. Also, they have largely come to see the United States as an honest broker in helping Iraq's communities come together around a process and a plan to stabilize the country.
Wright wrote: In a broad-brush assessment on a day when at least 60 died in a dozen bombings, Khalilzad said Americans should be patient and "strategically optimistic" about Iraq.
Wright boils the whole optimistic opening paragraph down to one sentence and makes sure she tarnishes it by including the deaths for the day.
You wonder why you're losing readership? With writing like this, wonder no more.
Deception galore! Holy profession, indeed!
Having read your weblog sporadically for the last couple months, I was under the impression you are concerned with the increasing number of readers that are getting their news from blogs. From this I assumed industry readership is down. If this is incorrect, then mea culpa. Maybe you would clarify this for me. I notice you mention in your response to me that the WaPo is up quite a bit, but didn't address the industry as a whole. What is the overall state of the industry?
You seems to have taken umbrage with my use of the word 'you'. Since I stated my comment wasn't on quite on topic, I was using it as a generic term, including both the other journalists that comment here and yourself. Sort of a food for thought thing. I thought my comparision of the article with the speech demonstrated one reason why journalism is losing the trust of the average reader.
My comment wasn't meant to be an attempt to derail the thread. Your previous item hasn't had a comment in six days, so I thought I'd comment here for people to cogitate on it. If you don't want input from other than journalists, fine. It seems wrong-headed to me though.
Was I snarky with my last couple sentences? Yes. I was just expressing my frustration with what I think is an instance of shoddy reporting by someone considered a professional. Why should I ever trust her again? What, if anything, does this say about the state of the profession as a whole?
Maybe you would be willing to give your opinion on whether her article meets professional journalistic standards? If you can justify her article, I'm open to changing my opinion.
From my one comment you seem to have come to the conclusion that I must be a conservative. To tell the truth, I don't feel I fit in the liberal/conservative dichotomy. I'll tell you a couple things about me though.
I don't believe in god. I believe women should be able to do whatever they want with their pregnancies. I don't believe we currently have sufficient knowledge of the climate system to implement a massive program to control CO2 emissions. I believe in helping those in need if they are trying their best. I'm not a one size fits all voter. In fact, most of my votes in the past 40 years have been anti-incumbent. I voted for Joe Leiberman for Senate in 1988-94 and against him in 2000, because I didn't like the fact he ran for 2 offices at the same time. If you want to categorizes me as conservative, that's ok with me. I don't think I fit the mold.
I really am interested in your opinion of the article.
I think you're close to the mark with your assessment. Conscientious journalists eventually gets tainted by the repetitive indescretions of the malefactors.
I'm only vaguely familiar with this woman prior to this article, but given the shoddiness of this particular article, I think it's likely she is a multiple offender who has received no negative feed back from colleagues. It calls into question the worth of what journalists like to say is multiple layers of fact checking, and even whether it should be believed that any such checking is actually done.
How can such an article ever pass vetting? Inattention by the higher ups? Lowly fact checkers fearful of correcting the person with the byline? Rubber-stamping by the editor because the reporter is considered a heavyweight and difficult to deal with? You people will have to figure that one out. This article might be a good place to start, if someone can find out.
Public trust in the media is justifiably eroded when such an article is allowed to be passed off as news. When reputable journalists ignore shoddy practices by others, why shouldn't the public consider their silence as assent and paint them with the same brush?
I believe most journalists to be hardworking, conscientious, and probably somewhat concerned about not wanting to make waves within their particular organization. I find it hard to believe you people don't occasionally come across items you know to be extremely misleading or outright incorrect, yet say nothing because you don't want to rock the boat.
Maybe some sort of after publication vetting of articles by journalists from a different organisation could negate any repercusions that might otherwise be possible if done internally. It would allow judging more objectively with less of a personal connection. With a penalty of say, five lashes with a wet noodle for something minor, or public humiliation for both the publisher and reporter for an egregious violation.
Personally, I would consider this article egregious. A counter-productive waste of the reader's time. Less accurately informed after reading it than before.
Of course this is all my personal opinion and I do no writing and have no blog. I do think I'm likely more in tune with the perception of general public than those in the profession are, try as they might.
I do hope some will cogitate on my thoughts a while. They may not be a wonder cure for regaining the public trust once held by the media, or even be realistically viable, but it's a place to start looking.
Please excuse the derail, don't know where else this would get read.
You could have saved yourself a few words and just said "You win. I guess you're right. Outing Plame's identity violated no law I can think of."
I don't care to debate, or cite statutes,
No, you can't cite a statute. Because you can't defend your position.
And you can't debate, because you don't have any specifics with which to support your call for prosecuting the Plame leak.
for someone who claims there were WMDs in Iraq, a claim even the WH doesn't make.
Hue, do try to keep up.
The 500 munitions discovered throughout Iraq since 2003 and discussed in a National Ground Intelligence Center report meet the criteria of weapons of mass destruction, the center's commander said here today.
"These are chemical weapons as defined under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and yes ... they do constitute weapons of mass destruction," Army Col. John Chu told the House Armed Services Committee.
So, to sum up, you were wrong about the Plame leak being against the law.
You're wrong about WMDs in Iraq.
And you're even wrong about whether the Administration is asserting that the munitions found constitute WMD.
Nevertheless, you can claim to disengage with a perfect record.
Here we go. Jason is playing debate again.
So, Jason, is your point that 20-plus year old corroded barrels of chemical weapons are, by definition weapons of mass destruction? Or, are you saying these are the very items cited by the Bush Administration to go to war in Iraq?
Do you think the old barrels of blister agents are worth a war?
What about the mobile nuclear weapons labs or the precision-milled tubes the Adminstration cited as necessary reasons to invade?
We know Saddam had chemical weapons. We knew he used them in the war with Iran and against the Kurds. It's the reason by CBR training was de rigeur during Gulf Wars I & II.
But, please, let's not present the presence of this aging war materiel as a cause of war. Even the Army acknowledges, per your cite, The munitions addressed in the report were produced in the 1980s, Maples said. Badly corroded, they could not currently be used as originally intended, Chu added.
And as the Washington Post reported June 22:
Neither the military nor the White House nor the CIA considered the shells to be evidence of what was alleged by the Bush administration to be a current Iraqi program to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
So, sure, there were 'weapons of mass destruction' on the ground in Iraq. Just not the ones Bush said were there.
You get an 'A' for semantics, Jason. And an A+ for sophistry.
Also from Fitzgerald's press conference:
QUESTION: The indictment describes Lewis Libby giving classified information concerning the identify of a CIA agent to some individuals who were not eligible to receive that information. Can you explain why that does not, in and of itself, constitute a crime?
FITZGERALD: That's a good question. And I think, knowing that he gave the information to someone who was outside the government, not entitled to receive it, and knowing that the information was classified, is not enough. You need to know at the time that he transmitted the information, he appreciated that it was classified information, that he knew it or acted, in certain statutes, with recklessness.
So, according to Fitzgerald, there were certain neccessary components to convict under the espionage act that were missing.
Hence, no indictment under that statute.
And note the use of the word "intentional" in the section quoted by Tim Schmoyer above. Fitzgerald cannot establish that the leak was intentional or even reckless (nobody is denying that Russert knew, and was claiming it was common knowledge among Washington journos, prior to the fateful conversation with Libby, no?)
In order to convict, you would have to demonstrate motive. Pretty high hurdle in this case.
Anyone else want to try?
And if you want to bring up the Espionage act, why does Section 2 not apply to the New York Times?
Here is the pertinent passage:
Whoever, with intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury or the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation, communicated, delivers, or transmits, or attempts to, or aids, or induces another to, communicate, deliver or transmit, to any foreign government, or to any faction or party or military or naval force within a foreign country, whether recognized or unrecognized by the United States, or to any representative, officer, agent, employee, subject, or citizen thereof, either directly or indirectly and document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blue print, plan, map, model, note, instrument, appliance, or information relating to the national defence, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than twenty years:
So the necessary elements are:
1.) The Times communicated or transmitted the SWIFT and NSA information. (Done simply by publishing)
2.) That the Times communicated the information to a foreign government or a faction of same or a military or naval force (Al Qaeda would clearly qualify)
3.) That said faction or military force existed in a foreign country (last I checked there were only 50 stars on the flag, and they're all spoken for)
4.) The information may be transmitted directly or indirectly (in other words, in any way whatsoever)
5.) And that it be information relating to the national defence.
Elements 2 and 3 of course, are wholly missing from Libby's situation (Unless, of course, you stipulate that the New York Times is an enemy agent).
So, since you're so keen on rigorously enforcing the 1917 Espionage Act, why would the NY Times not qualify?
You could say "but when the act is applied to a newspaper, there are first amendment concerns."
But those first amendment concerns have already been settled by the Supreme Court, in the Butts case and in Associated Press v. United States.
And to the extent there are first amendment concerns, Libby gets exactly the same considerations as does the New York Times, under the law.
So if you can't argue on the 1st Amendment, why could you not prosecute the Times under this amendment?