Jonah Goldberg

Consider the bowel-stewing arrogance of it all. By these standards, the press is simply never, ever, ever wrong in revealing classified information. Hell, it's their job! And, for some, it's not just stupid to be bothered by this, it's even a sign of bigotry.

Eric Lichtblau, the New York Times reporter who broke the banking story, offered a slightly different defense on CNN: The story really wasn't news. According to Lichblau, it's "common knowledge" that the government has been going after terrorist financial networks, so it's really no big deal that the Times revealed a specific program. By this logic, since it's "common knowledge" that we're fighting a war on terror, what would be the big deal with revealing all of our clandestine operations?

It is telling that the only leak that troubles the press and its cheerleaders is the Valerie Plame leak. When Dana Priest revealed the location of secret "CIA prisons," she was rewarded with a Pulitzer. When Lichtblau and James Risen disclosed the NSA surveillance program, they got Pulitzers, too. These revelations caused serious damage to America's ability to work with allies to fight terrorism and arguably put lives in danger. And yet the only leak to scandalize the media establishment was Plame's identity as a CIA employee. Why? Because it (allegedly) exposed the only serious enemy America faces: Karl Rove.

Look, I'm all in favor of a free press, and I oppose prior constraint. And of course, there's partisan cynicism and hypocrisy at play. (The White House loves to leak beneficial information to the press.) But there are merits to press criticism as well. What infuriates me is how anybody who raises these criticisms is caught in a Catch-22.

It works like this: The media gets to reveal anything it wants for any reason it sees fit in the name of "the people's right to know." But when the people, in their common sense, object to the disclosure of secret programs they expected their government to be conducting all along, the cognoscenti immediately ridicule the people for their ignorance. And when politicians or pundits echo the same concerns, the press immediately circles the wagons, declaring in its coverage and commentary that any such criticism is out of bounds, even un-American. It seems that for many of these people, free speech is a lot like government secrecy. Both are only legitimate when the New York Times says so.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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