Loose Lips Sink Ships
Milipundit, a former enlisted sailor who now works for Representative Jack Kingston, laments that the NYT and other media outlets continually divulge secret operation, snarking, “Who needs a security clearance when you’ve got the Times?”
Michelle Malkin continues sounding that tune as well, with a lengthy roundup this morning of people lambasting NYT editor Bill Keller. She ran several amusing PhotoShops of WWII era propaganda posters over the weekend (here, here, and here):
Noel Sheppard goes so far as to suggest that the reporters in question be jailed.
Regardless of one’s views on whether the press has the right to publish secret information that it deems useful to the public–or whether doing so is morally objectionable or strategically dangerous–we should all be able to agree on one thing: The primary fault here is not with the NYT but rather those who have been untrusted with classified information and are leaking it to the press. Those people are in violation of their oath. The press is, at least arguably, doing their job.
UPDATE: Apparently, we can’t agree. Michael Barone asks, with no apparent irony, in an article with the implausible headline, “The New York Times at War With America,”
Why do they hate us? No, I’m not talking about Islamofascist terrorists. We know why they hate us: because we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion, because we refuse to treat women as second-class citizens, because we do not kill homosexuals, because we are a free society.
No, the “they” I’m referring to are the editors of The New York Times. And do they hate us? Well, that may be stretching it. But at the least they have gotten into the habit of acting in reckless disregard of our safety.
For his part, Keller argues,
The press and the government generally start out from opposite corners in such cases. The government would like us to publish only the official line, and some of our elected leaders tend to view anything else as harmful to the national interest. For example, some members of the Administration have argued over the past three years that when our reporters describe sectarian violence and insurgency in Iraq, we risk demoralizing the nation and giving comfort to the enemy. Editors start from the premise that citizens can be entrusted with unpleasant and complicated news, and that the more they know the better they will be able to make their views known to their elected officials. Our default position — our job — is to publish information if we are convinced it is fair and accurate, and our biggest failures have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough or to report fully enough. After The Times played down its advance knowledge of the Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy reportedly said he wished we had published what we knew and perhaps prevented a fiasco. Some of the reporting in The Times and elsewhere prior to the war in Iraq was criticized for not being skeptical enough of the Administration’s claims about the Iraqi threat. The question we start with as journalists is not “why publish?” but “why would we withhold information of significance?” We have sometimes done so, holding stories or editing out details that could serve those hostile to the U.S. But we need a compelling reason to do so.
Glenn Reynolds and Hugh Hewitt both think Keller is either an idiot or thinks the American people are. Austin Bay isn’t much impressed, either. While I agree that parts of his “letter” are self-serving, the essential argument in the paragraph above strikes me as reasonable enough.
It’s true that any information shared with the American people is also thereby shared with our enemies. That’s problematic, to be sure. But Keller is right: Administrations, whether Republican or Democrat, have an unhealthy desire to operate free from scrutiny; reporters and their editors are too eager to risk national security for a big story. Yet, aside from obvious boundaries such as troop movements, the timing of operations, or the technical details of our intelligence operations, where this line is drawn is far from clear.