I wasn’t born early enough to read Walter Duranty lying about famine in the Ukraine, and otherwise shilling for Joe Stalin, but I was around in the late 1950s, when Herbert L. Matthews helped Fidel Castro “get his job through the New York Times.”
I still vividly remember (with cold anger) the Times’ Sunday Magazine’s cover the week Saigon fell. It displayed a napping Vietcong guerilla sitting in a folding lawn chair, Kalashnikov assault rifle across his knees. The Times’ headline read: “THE BLESSED PEACE.”
And I remember the Times spectacularly studied silence, which went on and on and on, when news of the holocaust in Cambodian began appearing in the Western Press.
But it was undoubtedly, too, another grand landmark in the New York Times’ long-standing, much-celebrated tradition of dishonest journalism, when the inveterbrate sycophant Byron Calame timorously succeeded (leaving a glistening trail behind him) to the supposed Times-Ombudsman position of Public Editor.
Time Executive Editor Bill Keller’s pathological hatred of the Bush Administration recently led him to ignore bipartisan requests from government officials and proceed to publicize a key international Counterterrorism financial surveillance program. In the minds of most Americans, Keller earned himself a place on the jury in some future Broadway production of The Devil and Daniel Webster that day.
And the American public’s watchdog Byron Calame is on the job, speaking truth to power. “You were absolutely right, boss!” brave Sir Byron wrote this Sunday.
The Times, in the course of a remarkable response from its readers, heard from more than a thousand, and Calame concedes “about 85 percent of them (were) critical of the decision to publish the story and a large fraction venomous.”
But the Public Editor reflected long and hard about who paid his salary, and went right to work typing out an editorial telling the public to get lost, Bill Keller had behaved perfectly correctly, and Eric Lichtblau is a true patriot.
You see, there was no wrongdoing on the part of the New York Times at all, since everyone (including all the terrorists) already knew all about the SWIFT program. There was no news here, after all.
But, it was necessary for the Times to defy government requests and print this story, you see, because it was terribly important that the public learn of the program, so that it could receive public scrutiny. So there was vitally important news, which had to be reported, after all.
(Isn’t it great being a liberal? You have no problem simultaneously accepting as true two completely contradictory propositions.)
And, finally, you and I may have skipped over that part of the Constitution, but The (unelected) Times, a privately-owned business organization which makes its money selling processed wood-pulp and advertising, you see, has its own Constitutional function: monitoring and oversight.
You and I waste our time going out to the polls and voting to elect presidents, and congressmen and senators, but the real bosses are Bill Keller and Eric Lichtblau, who are Constitutionally empowered to supervise all of their work.
If Keller and Lichtblau feel those mere elected officials’ work isn’t up to par, their approach questionable, or their manners distasteful, it is up to the Times to decide whether efforts to apply surveillance to International Terrorism shall be permitted to continue.
If the Times dislikes the elected administration; or if the Times isn’t selling enough woodpulp that week and needs a big story; or if it’s the wrong time of the month, and the Times is just feeling a bit cranky, obviously the Times (meaning Mr. Bill Keller) is perfectly entitled to don its robes of Constitutional Authority, assert its powers as “Monitor of Government in Chief,” and disclose any national security information it pleases.
(Wasn’t General Eisenhower lucky that Bill Keller was not around at the time of the D-Day Invasion? Keller might have decided that the Pas-de-Calais was a much better landing site, or might just have taken a dislike to FDR.)
Mr. Calame finally concludes, these kinds of decisions are a judgement call, and
The best judgment of these two editors (Keller and Lichtblau) served their readers well in the case of the Swift story. In the face of intense administration pressure in a country that’s unusually polarized politically, they correctly decided to make sure their readers were informed about the banking-data surveillance.
And I’m properly grateful. I had, of course, like any other normal American citizen, been planning to transfer a large sum of money to my favorite personal charity, an illegal terrorist organization of Lithuanian fly fishermen and fox-hunters. Now that I know all about that nefarious Bush Administration SWIFT program, I’ll simply tie hundred dollar bills to the legs of migrating Houbara bustards, which will be taken by Kazakh falconer allies, and forwarded via European Eagle Owls to those fiendish Baltic fly fishers. (Thank you, New York Times!) Aren’t you glad that you too can covertly support the terrorist movement of your choice with no interference from the authorities?