Editors of the New York Times, along with their allies in journalism, when defending the publication of anti-terrorism programs, often start by declaring their actions to be in the "public interest," making them a watchdog against what they view as excessive government power and secrecy. But the tables need to be turned. What about excessive media power and secrecy?
There's something bizarre about the Times rushing out to protest excessive secrecy in the Bush administration -- and then touting the testimony of secret sources as its evidence.
Media theorists have declared that anonymous sources are crucial to holding government accountable. But who is holding the anonymous source accountable? Or the newspaper using the anonymous source?
Major media outlets regularly pledge to protect the identity of their secret sources and even will send their reporters to jail -- like Judith Miller at the New York Times -- rather than break that secrecy pledge. Don't believe for a minute that this is all grounded in a sense of honor. They do this, among other reasons, as a business proposition. If a newspaper like the New York Times wants to be competitive in the national media elite, it needs big scoops (almost always based on anonymous sources) to be profitable. Just try being a competitive media outlet with the pledge that you, unlike the rest of the secrecy-guaranteeing press, will only use on-the-record statements in your Washington news coverage. It's not a promising business model.
This financial angle also holds true with individual reporters as well as media institutions. Don't forget that when the New York Times busted open the NSA terrorist-surveillance program last December, Times reporter James Risen wasn't selflessly serving the public interest: He also had a book coming out titled "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration." This was no coincidence. It was a purposely-timed commingling of "public interest" and private profit.
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