Public Editor, and Frank Rich, of ‘NYT’ Defend Bank Records Bombshell

By: E&P Staff

For the Sunday edition, Barney Caleme, public editor for The New York Times, tackles the latest hot-wired controversy, and concludes, “My close look convinced me that Bill Keller, the executive editor, was correct in deciding that Times readers deserved to read about the banking-data surveillance program. And the growing indications that this and other financial monitoring operations were hardly a secret to the terrorist world minimizes the possibility that the article made America less safe.”

This comes a day after Keller and Los Angeles Times Editor Dean Baquet co-authored an op-ed, appearing in both papers, defending the publication of articles in the two papers.

Also Sunday, Times’ columnist Frank Rich produces a tough-talking defense. Here are a couple of excerpts:

“No sooner were the flag burners hustled offstage than a new traitor was unveiled for the Fourth: the press. Public enemy No. 1 is The New York Times, which was accused of a ‘disgraceful’ compromise of national security (by President Bush) and treason (by Representative Peter King of New York and the Coulter amen chorus). The Times’s offense was to publish a front-page article about a comprehensive American effort to track terrorists with the aid of a Belgian consortium, Swift, which serves as a clearinghouse for some 7,800 financial institutions in 200 countries.

“It was a solid piece of journalism. But if you want to learn the truly dirty secrets of how our government prosecutes this war, the story of how it vilified The Times is more damning than anything in the article that caused the uproar….

“Representative King, so eager to label others treasonous, has humiliating headlines of his own to counteract: he’s the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee who has so little clout and bureaucratic aptitude that he couldn’t stop the government led by his own party from stripping New York City, in his home state, of 40 percent of its counterterrorism funding. If there’s another terrorist attack, he may be the last person in New York who should accuse others, as he did The Times on the House floor on Thursday, of having blood ‘on their hands.’

“Such ravings make it hard not to think of the official assault on The Times and The Washington Post over the Pentagon Papers. In 1972, on the first anniversary of the publication of that classified Pentagon history of the Vietnam War, The Times’s managing editor then, A. M. Rosenthal, reminisced in print about the hyperbolic predictions that had been made by the Nixon White House and its supporters: ‘Codes would be broken. Military security endangered. Foreign governments would be afraid to deal with us. There would be nothing secret left.’

“None of that happened. What did happen was that Americans learned ‘how secrecy had become a way of life’ for a government whose clandestine policy decisions had fomented a disaster.

“The assault on a free press during our own wartime should be recognized for what it is: another desperate ploy by officials trying to hide their own lethal mistakes in the shadows. It’s the antithesis of everything we celebrate with the blazing lights of Independence Day.”

The entire article can be found at www.nytimes.com, via the pay service TimesSelect.

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