Washington D.C.--The New York Times did an editorial on Sunday condemning President Obama for invoking the very same kinds of claims to national security as the administration of George W. Bush. On the face of it, they're right, but we're not a proactive culture, so they were nowhere to be seen in 2004. While the criticism is deserved, one should remember exactly who's stating it: The New York Times, the same people who bent over backwards for the Bush II administration's claims on national security again and again, depriving the American public of vital information, and they sat on this NSA wiretapping story for over a year that had been uncovered by journalists Eric Lichtblau and James Risen. We can assume there were others besides it and the Judith Miller doing the reverse for the same administration in the Plame scandal!
On Sunday, Sunday, Sunday, we got this anonymous editorial--so it can be assumed that the institution itself backs it--sternly titled "The Cover-up Continues," something that they're practiced hands at at the Times and would therefore know when they saw it:
...In that case [of the renditioned Ethiopian national Binyah Mohamed], the Obama administration has repeated a disreputable Bush-era argument that the executive branch is entitled to have lawsuits shut down whenever it makes a blanket claim of national security. The ruling rejected that argument and noted that the government’s theory would “effectively cordon off all secret actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the C.I.A. and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.” The Obama administration has aggressively pursued such immunity in numerous other cases beyond the ones involving Mr. Mohamed. We do not take seriously the government’s claim that it is trying to protect intelligence or avoid harm to national security.Great, and again, they're right, but thanks to their practices surrounding the warrantless wiretapping program and other areas, they definitely affected existing lawsuits; it would be impossible for the suppression not to have. No, in 2004, the New York Times did just that--they took seriously the government's claim that it was trying to protect intelligence and that if they published, it would harm national security. Or, it's just their excuse and they conspired criminally or abetted or enabled them, or any number of unpleasant permutations.
Like most mainstream journalists, Risen and Lichtblau valued their careers and bank accounts over the common good when they should have held a press conference once it became clear that their editors were going to sit on the very explosive information of high crimes, and they kept quiet. The program itself was illegal under the 1978 FISA. The role of the Times couldn't be more crucial in this story since they bought criminals over a year to cover things up and to ready the legal obstacles to slow things even further. They say the wheels of justice grind slowly, especially when you put a wrench in the gears. There has been very little support in Congress to rein-in these practices or to hold anyone accountable for them, quite the opposite. Years passed as weak calls for investigations ensued and predictably went nowhere. Dueling court lawsuits went back-and-forth, and...
Then-Senator Barack Obama voted (as did the majority of the Senate) in the fall of 2008 in favor of granting the telecommunications corporations who aided-and-abetted the Bush II administration for a bill that granted them all retroactive immunity, a kind of oxymoron of the law. He was hardly alone in his "yes" vote, and it could be said with genuine shame that a Rockefeller was leading the charge. Lichtblau mischaracterized the behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Bush II administration last year at the expense of Salon, thankfully not me:
For 13 long months, we'd held off on publicizing one of the Bush administration's biggest secrets. Finally, one afternoon in December 2005, as my editors and I waited anxiously in an elegantly appointed sitting room at the White House, we were again about to let President Bush's top aides plead their case: why our newspaper shouldn't let the public know that the president had authorized the National Security Agency, in apparent contravention of federal wiretapping law, to eavesdrop on Americans without court warrants. ("The inside drama behind the Times warrantless wiretapping story, Salon, 03.28.2008)Remember the wonderful national elections of 2004 and all the irregularities? No, not just the pandering to those who fear homosexuals and African-Americans, the problems at the polling places. Do I think that NYT journalist Eric Lichtblau is telling the whole truth here? Oh sure, I'd sit on a story for over a year, sit on the knowledge that high crimes had been committed by people under the color of authority. It's what all good apparatchiki do, both Lichtblau, Risen, and most of all, their editor, Bill Keller. The Times, Risen, and Lichtblau continue to be vague as to when exactly that first meeting occurred in 2004, but we can rest assured it was before the elections.
History isn't going to be kind to any of them in the intervening years, regardless of their lame attempts to paper over the pertinent questions of why exactly they sat on it. Another terrorist attack? A book deal? Give me a break, they were terrified in the editorial board that James Risen's book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, was going to expose that they decided to sit on the story for political purposes and ran it before it was published. They would have continued sitting on it had it not been the case. How much else of our history are they sitting on? We could be in real danger, and they wouldn't tell us. As a matter of fact, that's the case, and one has to assume that "the newspaper of record" is becoming about as reliable a source of information as a Wall Street banker. Somehow, I think they do lunch occasionally.
Licthblau's statements about the illegal program and his actions and attitudes surrounding it are a lie, a fabrication, and he's not a real journalist, and more like a stenographer. So is the Times' recent concern about being a government watchdog. It's a double-think like no other, as though they never sat on the story for over a year to help the Bush and the GOP through a tough election. That's what friends are for. Executive Bill Keller and the NYT showed considerably less concern about Bush over-reaching on national security than he does over Obama, and sat on the story for an incredible thirteen months.
But he's very careful in not being too specific as to how early they knew:
"A year ago, when this information first became known to Times reporters, the Administration argued strongly that writing about this eavesdropping program would give terrorists clues about the vulnerability of their communications and would deprive the government of an effective tool for the protection of the country's security.
"Officials also assured senior editors of The Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions.
"As we have done before in rare instances when faced with a convincing national security argument, we agreed not to publish at that time.
"We also continued reporting, and in the ensuing months two things happened that changed our thinking.
"First, we developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program. ("N.Y. Times statement defends NSA reporting," CNN.com, 12.16.2005)
Right, it's the job of a free press to take elected officials and their appointees at their word. This is the behind-the-scenes line held by the New York Times during the administration of George W. Bush, but oddly, not so in the case under Barack Obama, even though he's essentially doing the very same things that Bush did and is attempting with considerable effort to continue these expansions of power in the executive branch in the areas of national security. What's it going to be, eh? Who are you guys? Really. Small wonder that neither Keller, Risen, or Lichtblau will speak with any specifics about 2004.
"The inside drama behind the Times warrantless wiretapping story, Salon, 03.28.2008: http://www.slate.com/id/2187498/
"N.Y. Times statement defends NSA reporting," CNN.com, 12.16.2005: http://edition.cnn.com/2005/US/12/16/nytimes.statement/
"The Scoop That Got Spiked-Times delay on wiretap story leaves questions unanswered," FAIR, 01.11.2006: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2798
The Cover-up Continues," New York Times, 10.25.2009: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/26/opinion/26mon1.html?_r=2