Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Which New York Times Do You Believe?

It seems the more journalists talk about their lack of bias, the more they expose the fact that they are biased.

Recall the Rathergate events of September 2004. Dan Rather and Mary Mapes did a story on 60 Minutes II using false documents to allege that the President got preferential treatment in the Texas Air National Guard in order to influence the 2004 presidential election. But when the authenticity of the documents became very clearly doubtful in the following days, Rather ran a number of stories defending the original one and attacking critics of the documents which formed the foundation of his story. But with each defensive segment he ran, a few things became clear. First, he made no serious effort to determine whether the documents were what they appeared to be on first glance. Second, it appeared that Rather rushed the story to air in an effort to harm Bush politically and advance John Kerry's candidacy, given the fact that Rather offered a circular basis for his confidence in the documents--that they were authentic because of his subjective belief in the story they supported. Lastly, Rather appeared confused and unprofessional, given the fact that he could not see past the fact that he was holding recently-created documents.

That said, which New York Times do you believe? This one or this one? The first link was Sunday's attempted justification for releasing the Swift story, where Executive Editor, Bill Keller explained his rationale for releasing the story, stating that he believed it to be in the public interest to know about this program, and to have it properly debated in the open--in other words, we will publicly debate the efficacy of classified programs in specific terms. The Times isn't that stupid, and it is unfortunate that they thought we were as well.

I discussed the matter and indicated that his rather smarmy reasoning belied a desire to take a politically-motivated swipe a the Bush Administration, regardless of the risk to the nation of releasing such information. And despite Keller's ineffective efforts to dispel any notions of partisanship, the second linked article does away with everything he tried to do.

That piece's core admission nicely puts us in tune with the NYT editorial board's mind:

From our side of the news-opinion wall, the Swift story looks like part of an alarming pattern. Ever since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has taken the necessity of heightened vigilance against terrorism and turned it into a rationale for an extraordinarily powerful executive branch, exempt from the normal checks and balances of our system of government. It has created powerful new tools of surveillance and refused, almost as a matter of principle, to use normal procedures that would acknowledge that either Congress or the courts have an oversight role.

The Swift program, like the wiretapping program, has been under way for years with no restrictions except those that the executive branch chooses to impose on itself or, in the case of Swift, that the banks themselves are able to demand. This seems to us very much the sort of thing the other branches of government, and the public, should be nervously aware of. [snip]

The free press has a central place in the Constitution because it can provide information the public needs to make things right again. Even if it runs the risk of being labeled unpatriotic in the process. [italics mine]

The italicized Freudian slip is striking. Despite the fact that the Times gives some passing credit to this program it now renders useless, and notes quite correctly that there were no complaints about it by any aggrieved individuals or organizations, its editorial board wants "to make things right again." And given that they have already very clearly passed on criticism of the program, they raise concerns of separation of powers, public nervousness that ought to be there (but isn't), and "making things right again," it seems equally clear from this op-ed piece that this whole charade was an effort to undercut the Bush Administration.

And while there is nothing wrong with opposing political officials, there is everything wrong with putting people in danger to do it. Which makes the clever but disingenuous ending to the Times' op-ed piece about being "labeled unpatriotic" nothing more than a cheesy piece of self-righteous demagoguery.

So whichever Times you choose to believe, understand that they don't believe the defense that they keep offering, no matter how it's packaged.

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