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January 01, 2006

THE NEW YORK TIMES' PUBLIC EDITOR, Byron Calame, criticizes the Times' handling of the NSA story. Jeff Jarvis calls Calame's column "almost tough," and points to this post by Jay Rosen.

The Times' behavior on this story, and the Plame story, has undermined the unwritten "National Security Constitution" regarding leaks and classified information. Since the Pentagon Papers, at least, the rule has been that papers could publish classified information in a whistleblowing mode, but that they would be sensitive to national security concerns. In return, the federal government would tread lightly in investigating where the leaks came from. But the politicization of the coverage, and the outright partisanship of the Times, has put paid to that arrangement. It's not clear to me that the country is better served by the new arrangement, but unwritten constitutions require a lot of self-discipline on the part of the various players, and that sort of discipline is no longer to be found in America's leadership circles.

If the Times decided that its job was to tell its readers everything it knew, when it knew it, then it would have a good argument for publishing this sort of thing. But since the Times has made clear that it's happy to keep its readers in the dark when doing so serves its institutional interests, it doesn't have that defense for publishing stuff that's bad for national security.

UPDATE: Rand Simberg joins others in wondering why the NYT didn't release this story during the campaign, and opines:

At first glance, given their partisan behavior in general at least since the beginning of the Bush administration, one would have thought that it would be a slam-dunk decision, just as Dan Rather and Mary Mapes' tilting at the AWOL windmill occurred a few weeks before the election.

But perhaps they had the political acumen to realize that it might backfire on them. Consider--the Democrats were trying (however pathetically), by nominating an anti-war (and anti-military) protestor who picked up some medals in Vietnam for three months, to indicate that they were finally serious about national security, an issue that has dogged them since the era of said protestor--1972. Did they really want, in wartime, to be seen as criticizing the president for intercepting enemy communications, warrantless or otherwise? Was there someone in charge then who was prescient as to the potential backfire of this story, who is no longer?

If so, he (or, of course, she) has certainly been shown to be right in retrospect, and if they had pulled this stunt during the campaign, given his recent surge in approval and the Dems corresponding drop, Bush's victory margin would likely have been even larger.

Hmm. I'm not sure they're that (successfully) calculating. Meanwhile, isn't this exactly what critics were complaining that the government didn't do before 9/11?

MORE: Bill Quick hopes for a broad and deep investigation.

And Joe Gandelman has a big roundup. Check it out.

STILL MORE: Andrew Sullivan seems to think that I'm blaming the NYT editors for everything. No. If, in fact, the Administration broke the law, then there's a story here, though that remains a pretty big "if" at this point. But he goes on to ask the same question I did, and everyone else has: Why did they wait for a year if it was such a big deal? And if reporting the story a year ago would have been too damaging to national security, why isn't it too damaging now?

And there's another point: A few years ago, I'd have given the NYT the benefit of the doubt. Now -- because of the paper's bad behavior of the past few years, which Andrew played a major role in pointing out -- I don't. That absolutely is the fault of the Times' editors.

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