I have been a journalist for nearly two decades.
Journalism, as the late Michael Kelly, is a craft and an honorable one.
But the journalism nation is made up of many tribes, and some of them have declared war on the global war on terror and on the Bush Administration. Two of them in particular –the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times (the “Times Two”) crossed a line last week that had only previously been crossed by the former, and then only in the past six months: the knowing publication of secrets, the release of which was not only illegal –that has happened often in our history—but which obviously could possibly assist terrorists in eluding capture.
At least two members of the Times Two staffs have gone on record as admitting that the publication was motivated by competitive pressures.
Eric Lichtblau, one of two New York Times reporters who wrote the story on June 23 detailing the country’s use of the SWIFT system to track terrorist financing, told Editor & Publisher that “I don’t think we could reasonably be accused of moving too quickly…We waited so long that the competition caught up with us.”
Doyle McManus, Washington bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, told me in an wide-ranging interview on the story that all thought of restraint vanished when the New York Times posted its story. This despite the fact that McManus, in response to my question whether it was possible that “the story will in fact help terrorists elude capture,” McManus replied: “[I]t is conceivable.”
Mr. Lichtblau told Editor & Publisher:
that in each case the newspaper believed that the information it was reporting would not put anyone in harm's way. ‘I think we came down on the same side in both questions,’ he said of the two stories. ‘That this is not giving away information that is tangibly helping terrorists know what they don't already know.’
You cannot balance what you have not weighed, and you cannot weigh what you cannot measure.
Neither of the Times Two possesses the capacity, background, experience or learning to judge the extent of the assistance they have rendered terrorists.
No “expert” they could consult would be in a position to contradict the government’s strong assertions of the danger they were putting innocents in via their recklessness.
Bill Keller, leader of the New York Times, asserted in a Sunday letter to his readers, that “A secondary argument against publishing the banking story was that publication would lead terrorists to change tactics. But that argument was made in a half-hearted way.”