Sunday, October 22, 2006

NYT Public Editor Admits Publication of SWIFT Story Wrong

Since the job of public editor requires me to probe and question the published work and wisdom of Times journalists, there’s a special responsibility for me to acknowledge my own flawed assessments.

My July 2 column strongly supported The Times’s decision to publish its June 23 article on a once-secret banking-data surveillance program. After pondering for several months, I have decided I was off base. There were reasons to publish the controversial article, but they were slightly outweighed by two factors to which I gave too little emphasis. While it’s a close call now, as it was then, I don’t think the article should have been published.

Those two factors are really what bring me to this corrective commentary: the apparent legality of the program in the United States, and the absence of any evidence that anyone’s private data had actually been misused. I had mentioned both as being part of “the most substantial argument against running the story,” but that reference was relegated to the bottom of my column.

The source of the data, as my column noted, was the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift. That Belgium-based consortium said it had honored administrative subpoenas from the American government because it has a subsidiary in this country.

I haven’t found any evidence in the intervening months that the surveillance program was illegal under United States laws. Although data-protection authorities in Europe have complained that the formerly secret program violated their rules on privacy, there have been no Times reports of legal action being taken.
The basic facts of the situation have not changed in the intervening months. The Times published not only details of the SWIFT story, but that of the NSA program to track calls into the US from foreign sources.

It takes three months to realize that these stories undermine US national security? That there was no illegal activity on the part of the US government? Or that the NYT should have held the stories because of the beneficial data that these programs could provide in deterring and thwarting terrorism against the US and our allies?

Quite a few folks are taking Calame to task for admitting his error. The problem is that it wasn't simply his error. It was the error of the editorial staff - up to and including Bill Keller - who believed that their judgment was better than that of the Administration to determine what was an important national security issue and what should be published for all the world to see.

They substituted their judgment for that of the elected Administration.

Calame admits he was wrong. Great. The damage has already been done. He admits that he let his passions get in the way of making the correct call on the SWIFT story. What else has he and the editorial staff at the Times gotten wrong because of their passions. It's revealing that he mentioned passion, because it underlines the serious problems at the Times, Washington Post, and other national media outlets who have run stories exposing national security programs based more on the gotcha principle than on sound judgment. Passion and politics over national security during a time of war when anyone following the counter terrorism news knows that tracking the money can lead to undercovering terror threats and improve national security for the US and our allies.

Ed Morrissey has more. Patterico wants Calame to resign. I disagree. Calame has owned up to his mistake, though three minutes late. Keller has not, and he was the one who made that decision to publish. Calame should resign because he appended his mea culpa to a completely unrelated story.

Dan Riehl suggests keeping Calame right where he is, admitting that the Times doesn't like Bush.

That his newspaper published the SWIFT story in a moment of gotcha journalism when there was no story there, and made details of that program more widely distributed, shows a lack of good judgment that is pervasisve at the Times.

Macranger thinks that this is laying the groundwork for even worse times ahead at the Times.

Others blogging: The Anchoress, Sister Toldjah, Michelle Malkin, JunkYard Blog, Tom Maguire, Discarded Lies, Eugene Volokh, and Greg Tinti.

Powerline dissects the claims that the Bush Administration engaged in vicious criticism of the paper for its publication of the SWIFT program details. Perhaps Calame is confusing the Bush Administration for the legion of bloggers who castigated the Times for the publication of the NSA program, SWIFT program, and other details that could prove beneficial to terrorists and undermine US national security.

Don Surber notes that if the New York Times made a mistake, it reflexively had to blame Bush for the mistake. And Calame didn't place the blame for the fiasco on Keller et al.

Chapomatic is impressed at the skill Calame exhibits in burying the lede.

Secular Blasphemy notes the curious priorities of Calame and the NYT. Politics over national security.

Quite a few folks are noting the Emily Litella/SNL skit ('never mind') in relation to Calame and the Times' treatment of the SWIFT program along with questioning the timing (why did it take three months to realize the serious mistakes made in publication of the story): Flopping Aces, Lorie Byrd, The Squiggler, Carol Platt Liebau, Bill Quick, Newsbusters, Blue Crab Boulevard, Right Voices, and Rathergate.

Technorati: , , , , , .

No comments: