When is a "secret" not a secret?
When The New York Times decides, in the interest of saving its old gray hide, that it is not.
On June 22, the paper trumpeted its expose of "a secret Bush administration program" to track terror finances. The banking program, reporters Eric Lichtblau and James Risen made unmistakably clear, was a "closely held secret." The front-page story referred to the secret nature of the program no less than eight times. A Times-produced Web video featuring Lichtblau promoted a brief interview in which he "reveal(ed) a secret Bush administration program to access financial records."
But by July 2, smarting from the public backlash against its blabbermouth coverage, the Times crew was backpedaling faster than circus monkeys on barrels hurtling over Niagara Falls. Suddenly, the "secret" was no secret at all.
Everybody who's anybody has known about the secret program all along, silly. New York Times ombudsman Byron Calame's belated defense of the Times' expose of the monitoring of the SWIFT banking program contained this revealing passage:
"There was a significant question as to how secret the (monitoring of the SWIFT banking program) was after five years. 'Hundreds, if not thousands, of people know about this,' (Executive Editor Bill) Keller claimed he was told by an official who talked to him on condition of anonymity."
"Hundreds, if not thousands, of people" have known about the program before the Times blabbed about it. Well, there's a scoop. So, why wasn't this reported in the original story and reflected in the original, front-page headline?
There was no printed follow-up from lapdog Calame about Keller's assertion, which goes a good bit further than the claim by Times' apologists Richard Clarke and Roger Cressey. That mind-reading duo wrote in a Times op-ed that terrorists already assumed their financial transactions were being monitored. Calame curiously neglected to note that Keller's claim contradicted both the tone and facts presented in the Times' initial coverage by reporters Lichtblau and Risen.
Which is just as well, since Lichtblau himself is now contradicting his own story, too. On CNN's "Reliable Sources," facing withering criticism from talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, Lichtblau blustered: