02 May 2006

A Letter to the Editor

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On April 26th, the Wall Street Journal observed in an editorial titled Our Rotten IntelligenCIA:

The press is… inventing a preposterous double standard that is supposed to help us all distinguish between bad leaks (the Plame name) and virtuous leaks (whatever Ms. McCarthy might have done). Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie has put himself on record as saying Ms. McCarthy should not “come to harm” for helping citizens hold their government accountable. Of the Plame affair, by contrast, the Post’s editorial page said her exposure may have been an “egregious abuse of the public trust.”

It would appear that the only relevant difference here is whose political ox is being gored, and whether a liberal or conservative journalist was the beneficiary of the leak. That the press sought to hound Robert Novak out of polite society for the Plame disclosure and then rewards Ms. Priest and Mr. Risen with Pulitzers proves the worst that any critic has ever said about media bias.

The deepest damage from these leak frenzies may yet be to the press itself, both in credibility and its ability to do its job. It was the press that unleashed anti-leak search missions aimed at the White House that have seen Judith Miller jailed and may find Ms. Priest and Mr. Risen facing subpoenas. And it was the press that promoted the probe under the rarely used Espionage Act of “neocon” Defense Department employee Lawrence Franklin, only to find that the same law may now be used against its own “whistleblower” sources. Just recently has the press begun to notice that the use of the same Espionage Act to prosecute two pro-Israel lobbyists for repeating classified information isn’t much different from prosecuting someone for what the press does every day — except for a far larger audience.

We’ve been clear all along that we don’t like leak prosecutions, especially when they involve harassing reporters who are just trying to do their job. But then that’s part of the reason we didn’t join Joe Wilson and the New York Times in demanding Karl Rove’s head over the Plame disclosure. As for some of our media colleagues, when they stop being honest chroniclers of events and start getting into bed with bureaucrats looking to take down elected political leaders, they shouldn’t be surprised if those leaders treat them like the partisans they have become.

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Stung by the Journal’s criticism, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller responded in a Letter to the Editor today, denying any partisan bias, by noting that the Times even covers major scandals involving democrats “(Ask Bill Clinton. Ask Congressman Mollohan)” (!):

In the case of the eavesdropping story, President Bush and other figures in his administration were given abundant opportunities to explain why they felt our information should not be published. We considered the evidence presented to us, agonized over it, delayed publication because of it. In the end, their case did not stand up to the evidence our reporters amassed, and we judged that the responsible course was to publish what we knew and let readers assess it themselves. You are welcome to question that judgment, but you have presented no basis for challenging it, let alone for attributing it to bad faith or animus toward the president.

In the final paragraph of your broadside, you include the following disclaimer: “We’ve been clear all along that we don’t like leak prosecutions, especially when they involve harassing reporters who are just trying to do their job.” That’s nice to hear, and squares with what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they set out to protect a vibrant, inquisitive press. It’s just hard to square with the rest of your editorial.

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If the Times editorial policy is so non-partisan, responsible, and generally sans reproche as all that, I’d be curious to know why Mr. Keller found it necessary to stonewall, and refuse to answer, the timid and polite inquiries by his own pet lapdog “ombudsman” Byrom Calame, who noted that remarkable silence at the beginning of this year.

Who does the Times think it’s kidding?

From Walter Duranty’s award-winning concealment of the horrors of Stalinist collectivization, to Herbert Matthews’ press agentry for Fidel Castro, to the studiously overlooked coverage of the Khmer Rouge massacres in Cambodia, the Times has compiled, for nearly a century, a record of leftwing partisan mendacity that rivals Pravda’s.

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