"For people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America."
So said President Bush of The New York Times' revelation of a secret U.S. program to monitor the international cash transfers of suspected terrorists. "Disgraceful," added an angry president.
Vice President Cheney assailed news organizations that "take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people."
Of the Times' decision to expose the secret program, House Speaker Dennis Hastert says: "This is not news. This is something that has been classified; something that is top secret."
Treasury Secretary John Snow wrote Times editor Bill Keller, "In choosing to expose this program despite repeated pleas from high-level officials on both sides of the aisle ... the Times undermined a highly successful counter-terrorist program and alerted terrorists to the methods and sources used to track their money trails."
The U.S. government has thus declared that what the Times did was reprehensible, and rendered aid and comfort to the enemy.
But if Bush believes that, why hasn't his Justice Department been directed to investigate these crimes against the Espionage Act and acts of treason in a time of war?
Rhetoric aside, the core issue here is this:
Does Bush believe the Times committed a crime in exposing the secret financial tracking program and the secret National Security Agency program to intercept U.S. phone calls of suspected terrorists -- for which the Times won a Pulitzer? If he does, why has he not acted?
Why has he not ordered Justice to dig out the disloyal leakers and prosecute their media collaborators, who refused White House requests not to compromise these vital programs? If Bush believes what he is saying, why does he not do his duty as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States?
Asked if the White House would retaliate against the Times, Press Secretary Tony Snow said, "The New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public's right to know in some cases might override somebody's right to live."
Nice statement, but the Times' response is: We did reflect, Tony, and we decided to publish. An unstated corollary is: And what are you going to do about it?
The answer so far is that the Bushites are going to do nothing other than fulminate and pound the Post and Times. Bush has every right to do so, and the tactic is effective, for even opponents of the war do not believe journalists are above the law and enjoy special rights to expose security secrets to sabotage any war effort they no longer agree with.
On this issue, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is right. He has called for an investigation of the leakers of these secret programs and criminal prosecution of the editors and the publisher of the Times:
"The time has come for the American people to realize and The New York Times to realize we're at war and they can't just be on their own deciding what we declassify, what to release."
Editorialists at the Times and The Washington Post and their kennel-fed columnists and "media critics" are trotting out all the bromides about "the meaning of the First Amendment," "the people's right to know," "the role of the press in a democratic society," etc. And it is a slam-dunk prediction that more Pulitzers and People's Hero awards, like the ones Walter Duranty and Herbert Matthews collected for the Times, are ahead.
Behind the Times' defiance of the law surely lies a gnawing need for redemption. For the Times has been through a bad patch. First, it was revealed Jayson ("Burning Down My Master's House") Blair had hoked up three dozen stories and smoked them right past the Times' editors, who were blinded by the brilliance of their black prodigy. Then, there came the revelation that editor Howell Raines directed the paper to run three dozen stories on the human rights atrocity at Augusta National, where some good ole boys had conspired to keep the girls out of their tree house. After that, there was the Judith Miller fiasco, where the Times stood firm -- then folded in the face of some really big-time fines.
Keller and publisher Arthur Sulzberger appear to have decided the way to recapture lost credibility is to publish national security secrets, as in the Pentagon Papers days of yore.
And, thus far, for all their huffing and puffing, the Bushites have blinked. But this cannot stand. For appeasement will beget new acts of arrogance and aggression by the Times, and other newspapers, until a White House finds the courage to demand that the Times, too, obeys the laws and respects our national security secrets, even if it means putting Bill and Art in the Graybar Hotel for a spell.