Saturday, June 24, 2006

An Excess of Zeal? (Or Why The New York Times Screwed Us All Over)

I'm sure you all know about the bruhaha over the NYT publishing a story on a classified Treasury Department plan to thwart terror funding, that was leaked to them by government officials. I've always believed that the press has the right, even the moral duty, the act as a check on government power, and keep the public informed, when they need to be informed, even in wartime. With this, on the other hand, I'm left wondering why they would release this. This isn't the NSA wiretapping story. This isn't Abu Ghraib. This is a terror-fighting tool that is unquestionably legal (they have warrants), and looks to have really worked. Now, it appears that the program may have been blown. The obvious question is, why publish it? What's the public interest?

Now I'm not one to in any way advocate prosecuting journalists for these sorts of things. Legally, the New York Times has done nothing wrong. The same cannot be said of those government employees who leaked classified info. I reject the idea that the press should be somehow suppressed, because as I've said, that undermines the rights of the free press. We don't want to go down that path. I'm left wondering what the Times' motivations are, besides the "public's right to know," and disdain for Bush.

For some, the answer is crudely simple. The NYT has sided with the enemy. I reject that in its entirety. The press generally believes in their role as a check on government abuse. If illegal or possibly illegal things are being done, let justice be done though the Heavens fall, they say. In most cases this is a good thing, but in wartime especially, we need a free and responsible press. Let me be clear:I don't think the NYT, or the press in general has somehow allied themselves with the terrorists. The problem is, they often see themselves as journalists above all else. The public's right to know, as they see it, trumps civic responsibility. If a plan to fight terrorists that works is undermined, so be it. Let's also not forget that Bush isn't really counted as an ally in that realm, and in many cases he's an outright foe. We all know how Bush Derangment Syndrome does a number on rational thought, like all ideological pathologies.

It seems to me that many journalists are so committed to the profession and the institution, that it becomes almost a religious commitment. The fact that a successful anti-terror tool has been compromised is not considered. The fact that this program is 100 percent legal is irrelevant to them. Their excess of zeal, often mixed with established biases, lead to these things happening. Honestly, I could defend a lot of the other stories on principle, particularly the wiretapping story, but this makes no sense. The public interest is undermined, because things that should be secret are now known, and thus compromised. All this being said, I still defend the press' right to inform. While I wish that many in the press would look beyond their zeal for being journalists, and anti-Bush zeal, and consider the effects their reporting might have on the country that buys their papers, any such cure for this problem would be worse than the disease.

While I don't think that it was necessarily the Times' intent to aid the terrorists, that doesn't change the fact that they may very well have.

UPDATE: I've changed my position slightly, regarding prosecution. It seems that they can be prosecuted for publishing this, and now that I think about it, probably should be.

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