‘NYT’ Gets Strong Blog Response to Holding Spying Story — Keller Offers Explanation

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By: E&P Staff

The New York Times’ revelation on Friday of a presidential order signed in 2002 allowing the National Security Agency to spy on hundreds of people inside the U.S. — and the newspaper’s decision to hold off on the report for a year at the request of the White House — has inspired a wide reaction, including at the paper’s Web site itself.

For one of the first, if not the first, time with a major story, the Times has included a prominent link right under a bombshell story that takes readers to a variety of postings by bloggers. The Washington Post online has been carrying blog reactions for some time.

The bloggers who get links at the Times today include conservatives Glenn Reynolds at InstaPundit, Hindrocket of Powerline and Michelle Malkin (she denounces the “civil liberties Chicken Littles” at the paper), as well as a sampling of liberals such as DailyKos. The paper does not link to Matt Drudge, who today has been accusing the paper of only publishing the story now because co-author James Risen has a book on this general subject coming out soon.

It also does not link directly to Will Bunch, the award-winning Philadelphia Daily News reporter who writes the “Attytood” blog there, but it does link to Romenesko — which links to Bunch.

In any case, Bunch charges that the Times likely had this shocking information before the November 2004 election, and if it had come out with it then it would have sunk Bush’s chances for re-election. He also mentions that this comes on top of Times’ reporter Judith Miller not coming forward in the Plame case last year, which allegedly also helped Bush win. The media got “gamed” in the election, he declares.

Referring to today’s story, Bunch writes: “We’d like to know a lot more about how this all transpired — who talked to whom at the Times, and when did they talk? Did the pleading come before Nov. 2, 2004, or after? Was anyone on the White House political side — i.e., Karl Rove — involved? You would think that after the Judy Miller fiasco, the Times would be much, much more transparent in the backstory of how this story was published. But you would think wrong… .”

Later in the day, however, the Times released a statement by Executive Editor Bill Keller, which read in part:

“We start with the premise that a newspaper’s job is to publish information that is a matter of public interest. Clearly a secret policy reversal that gives an American intelligence agency discretion to monitor communications within the country is a matter of public interest. From the outset, the question was not why we would publish it, but why we would not.

“A year ago, when this information first became known to Times reporters, the administration argued strongly that writing about this eavesdropping program would give terrorists clues about the vulnerability of their communications and would deprive the government of an effective tool for the protection of the country’s security. Officials also assured senior editors of the Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions. As we have done before in rare instances when faced with a convincing national security argument, we agreed not to publish at that time.

“We also continued reporting, and in the ensuing months two things happened that changed our thinking.

“First, we developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program. It is not our place to pass judgment on the legal or civil liberties questions involved in such a program, but it became clear those questions loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood.

“Second, in the course of subsequent reporting we satisfied ourselves that we could write about this program — withholding a number of technical details — in a way that would not expose any intelligence-gathering methods or capabilities that are not already on the public record.”

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