You might not notice if one mosquito bites you. But if a bunch of mosquitoes all bite in the same place, you’ll get a big itchy lump.
Reporters are like that. They swarm, attacking the same place again and again. There are too many to swat them all aside. That’s why President Bush will probably never again surpass 50 percent in an approval poll, because he’ll just keep getting bled by media mosquitoes.
The latest example is the much-touted leak of a portion of the National Intelligence Estimate. “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat,” said a New York Times headline on Sept. 24. The Washington Post countered that day with “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Hurting U.S. Terror Fight.” Buzz buzz.
Of course, the full story was much more nuanced. After President Bush unclassified parts of the NIE, we learned that it says (in part), “United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al Qaeda and disrupted its operations.” Overall, the NIE paints a much-brighter picture than the excerpts quoted in the early reports.
The problem with the Post and Times stories is that they relied on sources that refused to be identified. “More than a dozen United States government officials and outside experts were interviewed for this article, and all spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a classified intelligence document,” the Times story said. The Post explained, “this official and others would only discuss intelligence analyses on the condition of anonymity.”
Well, those intelligence analysts are probably breaking the law by giving classified information to reporters, so it makes sense they’d want their names kept out of the papers. But should the newspapers allow these leakers to hide behind anonymous quotes?
Earlier this year, Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie, Jr. defended reporter Dana Priest’s Pulitzer Prize. “The reporting that Dana did was very important accountability reporting about how the CIA and the rest of the U.S. government have been conducting the war on terror,” Downie announced.
“Whether or not the actions of the CIA or other agencies have interfered with anyone’s civil liberties is important information for Americans to know and is an important part of our jobs.” In other words, Downie thinks the government shouldn’t be able to keep secrets from us.
Well, right. Oversight is a good thing. That’s why members of Congress are given much of the same classified information the president gets -- so they can ensure it’s being interpreted correctly.