The New York Times – Not Too SWIFT

Maintaining a measure of consistency in opinion over time can be difficult. Often, it is easy to avoid thinking thoroughly through one’s positions without appreciating their full import. This is especially true when statements are separated by substantial gaps of time. However, when conspicuously contradictory statements are juxtaposed, yet pass unrecognized as incongruous and oxymoronic, lunacy prevails.

On June 23, 2003 the New York Times revealed a “secret Bush administration program” that allowed the government access to international financial transactions to track terrorist financing. The program centers on a Belgium financial clearing house, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). According to the article, the program is legal and effective. The NY Times’ report also actually describes terrorists who had been apprehended as a consequence of the program.

Immediately, the President and others criticized both the original leak of the information and the decision by the NY Times to publish despite bi-partisan requests that the paper show uncharacteristic restraint. In the wake of this criticism, the Boston Globe picked up on the talking points of the Left, and ran an article five days later entitled “Terrorist funds-tracking no secret, some say”. Since nothing was revealed, the NY Times did nothing wrong.

The unseen hilarious incongruity is either the SWIFT program was, as the NY Times reported, “secret” and important enough to be on front page of the paper, or it was common knowledge. Both conditions cannot be true. Moreover, if terrorists are being caught, then the program could not be very common knowledge. Once again anti-Bush animosity blinded normally sane people from seeing the obvious.

Publishing leaked classified information can arguably be consistent with journalistic standards, if the program was either illegal or being abused. The NY Times itself makes no such claim. Moreover, relevant members of Congress were being informed. Republican and Democratic politicians, including vocal Administration critic Representative John Murtha (D-PA), and Democratic co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, Lee Hamilton, urged that the NY Times not divulge the program. The paper was not persuaded.

Why then would the NY Times publish the article? The key may lie in the unintentionally revelatory statement by Bill Keller, executive editor of the NY Times: “We remain convinced that the administration’s [italics added-FMM] extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest.” The editor’s concern was not the general government’s access to listing of financial transaction, but this “administration’s” access.

It is also worthy to note that in a June 25, 2006 piece, Editor Bill Keller explained his decision “to disregard the wishes of the President and his appointees.” But he does not bother to mention that he was disregarding the wishes of not only the President but people on both sides of the aisle and in Congress as well. Again we see the pattern of an almost pathological fixation on the Bush Administration.

The editors have been eloquent in explaining the necessity of a free press and the obligations of such a press to be responsible what it chooses to publish about national security matters. However, they have been unable to offer a sustainable reason why it was necessary or important to reveal the details of this particular program at this particular time.

It is no secret that the editors of the NY Times pretty much don’t like this Administration. Anything that might conceivably cast it in a negative light is given great weight, perhaps even outweighing possible compromises in the nation’s ability to deal with terror. Annoyance with the President has clouded the judgment of the paper. Perhaps the paper suffers because there are not enough Conservatives in the newsroom to provide balance. Regardless of the reason, because the editors of the NY Times are not sufficiently introspective to recognize their own biases, the paper, the country, and the War on Terror all suffer.

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