Cleaning out the garage or weeding out no longer needed files from the office can teach us lessons. At least one of those is that our view of ourselves is carefully constructed: we are often greedier, messier, lazier, more forgetful and more dishonest than we'd like others to know. (Of course, we also may find evidence of long-forgotten brilliance and heroism. That stuff we keep, of course. That stuff, if we're the government or "the American people," we put on display in the Smithsonian.)
George W. Bush could have lost his presidency in 2004 had it not been for a bad -- an unforgivable -- decision at the New York Times. Here's a piece of the Washington Post's 2005 report on the Times' failure to publish news that could have ended Bush's presidency.
The New York Times' revelation yesterday that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to conduct domestic eavesdropping raised eyebrows in political and media circles, for both its stunning disclosures and the circumstances of its publication.
In an unusual note, the Times said in its story that it held off publishing the 3,600-word article for a year after the newspaper's representatives met with White House officials. It said the White House had asked the paper not to publish the story at all, "arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny."
The Times said it agreed to remove information that administration officials said could be "useful" to terrorists and delayed publication for a year "to conduct additional reporting." ...WaPo
The Post headlined their report: "At the Times, a Scoop Deferred."
After what turned out to be a close reelection -- and one that was also dominated by strong and largely proven efforts on the part of some "red" states' to skew the vote -- we wound up with prolonged war and continuing depredations by a dishonest White House. The Times' bad decision to withhold news undoubtedly played a role in that outcome.
Obama isn't doing much better. As Glenn Greenwald points out in a fascinating piece in the Times today, the Obama administration has much to answer for. We have bootlicker media. But then we have bootlicker politicians and presidents, too.
I have no objection to the process whereby the White House is permitted to give input prior to the publication of sensitive secrets.
Indeed, WikiLeaks, advocates of radical transparency, went to the White House and sought guidance before publishing the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, but the White House refused to respond, then had the temerity to criticize WikiLeaks for publishing material that it said should have been withheld. That pre-publication process is both journalistically sensible (journalists should get as much relevant information as they can before making publication decisions) and legally wise (every Espionage Act lawyer will say that such consultation can help prove journalistic intent when publishing such material). For all the N.S.A. reporting I’ve done — not just at The Guardian but with media outlets around the world — the White House was notified by editors before the fact of publication (though in the vast, vast majority of cases, their demands that information be suppressed were disregarded due to lack of specific reasons in favor of suppression).
My objection is not to that process itself but to specific instances where it leads to the suppression of information that ought to be public. Without intended rancor, I believe that the 2004 decision of The Times to withhold the Risen/Lichtblau N.S.A. story at the request of the Bush White House was one of the most egregious of such instances, but there are plenty of others. ...Greenwald,NYT
A responsible decision on the part of the Times? Hell, no! says Greenwald. "In essence, I see the value of journalism as resting in a twofold mission: informing the public of accurate and vital information, and its unique ability to provide a truly adversarial check on those in power. Any unwritten rules that interfere with either of those two prongs are ones I see as antithetical to real journalism and ought to be disregarded."
The above quotes come from a long conversation, in the form of an exchange of letters, published in the Times today, between Times editor, Bill Keller, and lawyer-blogger-journalist Glenn Greenwald. The exchange gets a little rancorous.