NYT Ombudsman Decides, 'All Right, Maybe We Shouldn't Have Run the SWIFT Story'

Posted: Oct 23, 2006 12:01 PM

Here's Byron Calame:

My July 2 column strongly supported The Times’s decision to publish its June 23 article on a once-secret banking-data surveillance program. After pondering for several months, I have decided I was off base. There were reasons to publish the controversial article, but they were slightly outweighed by two factors to which I gave too little emphasis. While it’s a close call now, as it was then, I don’t think the article should have been published.

Those two factors are really what bring me to this corrective commentary: the apparent legality of the program in the United States, and the absence of any evidence that anyone’s private data had actually been misused. I had mentioned both as being part of “the most substantial argument against running the story,” but that reference was relegated to the bottom of my column.

The whole thing is worth a read, including the odd tidbit that it was "vicious criticism" from those who opposed the Times that made him stick to his guns when maybe he shouldn't have. After all, the actual evidence about the SWIFT program is no different now than it was then.

Michelle Malkin wonders exactly which criticism Calame is referring to:

Bush defended the program as lawful, which Calame now admits is true...Bush called the disclosure disgraceful. Does Calame disagree?...I repeat: What, exactly, is Calame referring to when he cites "vicious" Bush administration attacks? Is he talking about Dick Cheney?


If this is really Calame's idea of "vicious criticism," apparently he hasn't been reading his own paper's editorials on President Bush. And if Calame really thinks the Times is an "underdog," he is seriously out of touch.

It's good that Calame had the honesty to reverse his original misjudgment. But his characterization of the feelings that led him astray in the first place are a striking admission of his own biases.

Tom Maguire says the damage is done, but...

Well, I suppose we should acknowledge Mr. Calame's grace in admitting his error, and before the election to boot. And keep in mind, the decsion to publish was not his to make.

That said, this flip-flop will annoy folks on the other side of this debate without mollifying cranks such as me. I would guess that Mr. Calame's lonely job just got a little lonelier.

La Shawn brings the "vicious criticism" and calls for resignation.

Bush made me do it!

Patterico also wants a resignation, and says:

Why was I able to figure this out instantly, whereas it took the New York Times’s public editor four months to realize the importance of these facts? It’s not because I’m smarter than Byron Calame; I’m not. It’s because I don’t automatically defend a newspaper simply because it has been attacked by the Bush Administration. By contrast, the only reason Calame supported the paper’s decision, he admits today, was because the paper had been harshly criticized by the Bush Administration

"I hated Bush so much that I couldn't do my job."