Tuesday, June 27, 2006

 

The Media & Disclosing Secrets

What they're really revealing

Like many Americans, I'm outraged that classified material is continuously being leaked to the media and published. The lates blow to national security comes from the disclosures concerning the SWIFT program to track the money of terrorists. Such disclosures of classified information are indefensible and unconscionable. Every new defense offered by the media regarding their duty to publish such information is more arrogant that the last.

Presented in a somewhat disjointed manner, what follows are items on the subject I've found interesting and some related commentary.

Hugh Hewitt compares and contrasts his interview with Doyle McManus, Washington bureau chief of the LA Times, who defends the LA Times decision and the published defense its editor, Dean Baquet. Hewitt exposes the many discrepancies and contradictions between both explanations.

I found this bit of the interview noteworthy:
HH:Are you and the folks at the Los Angeles Times qualified to evaluate the terrorist networks, their sophistication in how they respond to information, from classified information?

DM: Well, we are journalists, we're qualified to go ask the smartest people we can find those questions, and that's about the best we can do.
I would say the best they could do would be to defer to the decisions of the elected representatives of the American people. By McManus' standard, any 5 year old child is qualified to make national security decisions.

On a related matter, Hewett quotes Baquet, then responds:
History has taught us that the government is not always being honest when it cites secrecy as a reason not to publish. No one believes, in retrospect, that there was any true reason to withhold the Pentagon Papers, although the government fought vigorously to keep them from being published by the New York Times and the Washington Post. As Justice Hugo Black put it in that case: "The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic."
Here Baquet reveals his ignorance of the Pentagon Papers decision. Begin with the fact that the case's four dissenters are on record as not merely agreeing with the government's right to withhold the papers, but even in the more radical proposition that a prior restraint was authorized. And serious students of the case understand that the objection made during the war --compromising methods and sources-- would certainly not have survived long after the war's end, but Baquet's cavalier treatment of the facts of that case again raises the issue of whether newspapermen who lead busy but not particularly broad or learned lives are in a position to have the factual or experiential backgrounds to make judgments such as these. The triumph of cliches doesn't matter when it is just newsroom posturing and idiot editorials. It has grave consequences when national security secrets are being paraded in an age of terror.
Hewitt fisks Bill Keller's defense of his decision to publish here.

Andrew McCarthy makes a compelling argument as to why the media shouldn't be prosecuted for publishing leaked, classified information:
There is only one real way to identify government officials who disclose classified information. You have to get it directly from the journalist who spoke to them.

But if, as the King approach posits, the journalist were made the target of a criminal investigation, he would have a Fifth Amendment privilege to remain silent. That is, by clinging to the slim possibility of successfully prosecuting the journalist, investigators would render legally unavailable the only realistic witness to the public official's illegal leaking. So in the end, no one would get prosecuted. And the leaks would go merrily on -- undeterred, if not emboldened.

There is but a single viable strategy here. The focus of the prosecution must be the public officials who leaked, not the journalists who published. The journalists must be given immunity from prosecution. That would extinguish their privilege against self-incrimination, meaning they could be ordered to reveal their sources to a federal grand jury. There is no legal privilege to refuse. We saw that in the Valerie Plame investigation, in which a prosecutor moved aggressively against a leak that pales beside the gravity of what we are discussing.

If the immunized reporters declined an order to testify, they could be jailed for up to 18 months for contempt-of-court. Jail is an unpleasant place. Recall that it took Judith Miller only a few months there to rethink her obstructionist stance in the Plame case. And the mere specter of imprisonment inspired Matthew Cooper to surrender his source on the verge of a contempt citation.
It is inexcusable that the Bush administration hasn't done anything like this. Immediately upon publication of classified material, a grand jury should be convened and the reporters involved subpoenaed to reveal their sources. In this case they had advance notice of what the NY Times was going to publish. They knew that a crime -- the disclosure of classified information -- had been comitted. Why not initiate an investigation into the leak before publication? Besides, by merely threatening to empanel a grand jury they may have prevented publication. Or is there something I'm missing here?

About the NY Times, Michale Barone wonders:
Why do they hate us? Why does the Times print stories that put America more at risk of attack? They say that these surveillance programs are subject to abuse, but give no reason to believe that this concern is anything but theoretical. We have a press that is at war with an administration, while our country is at war against merciless enemies. The Times is acting like an adolescent kicking the shins of its parents, hoping to make them hurt while confident of remaining safe under their roof. But how safe will we remain when our protection depends on the Times?
After making a few good points about the reprecussions of the SWIFT program's exposure, Ace has the answer to Barone's question:
The left continues to undermine national security in the most despicable, cynical way. I'm quite sure the reasonable liberals at the NYT and WaPo know full well that programs like this are absolutely vital, and their secrecy is likewise vital. However, they have made the most anti-American and evil sort of decision: While tools like this are vital for saving American lives, they will not permit any Republican President to use them. Only Democratic Presidents are permitted to employ the full panoply of powers for protecting American lives.

It's blackmail, pure and simple. Either let a Democrat into the White House, or we will continue to sabotage American security and, in effect, kill Americans. We will keep secrets when a Democrat is in office, but not a Republican. So we offer the American people a choice: Let the politicians we favor run the country, or we will help Al Qaeda murder you.
(My emphasis)

I've been thinking along these same lines for some time now. I'm beginning to think Ace is right.

MORE: Armed Liberal sees things a little differently than Ace:
I don't think that the newspapers are treasonous, or doing this solely in an effort to thwart President Bush (i.e. I don't think that a Democratic president would be getting a free ride right now). That doesn't mean that the impacts of what they are doing doesn't damage the country, put lives at risk, or negatively impact President Bush's effectiveness.

I think, in simple terms, that they have forgotten that they are citizens, and that they have an obligation to the polity that goes beyond writing the good story. I don't think they are alone; I think that many people and institutions in the country today have forgotten they are citizens, whether they are poor residents of New Orleans defrauding FEMA or corporate chieftains who are maximizing their bonuses at the expense of a healthy economy.
Via Instapundit, who comments:
I think that they're offended at the notion that citizenship might involve obligations to do something other than what you want to do anyway.

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