Old Media Unrepentant On Damaging Disclosures

July 10, 2006

The Old Media are far from contrite about their latest national security betrayal. Instead, they have begun attacking their accusers.

Every time the Old Media are criticized, they trot out the First Amendment, as if they are its exclusive guardians. Heaven help us if that’s the case. For it’s not the First Amendment they worship, but their self-anointed stewardship of it. Why else would they so adamantly favor suppression of political speech for all but themselves during the 60 days preceding elections? Why else would many of them favor the “Fairness Doctrine” to squelch their successful conservative competitors on radio? Why else would they defend draconian campus speech codes?

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times came under deservedly harsh criticism for reporting — over the administration’s vigorous objections — the CIA’s program of tracking terrorists’ financial transactions.

Instead of apologizing, they congratulated themselves for defending the Constitution. Bill Keller of the New York Times and Dean Baquet of the Los Angeles Times co-wrote an op-ed defending their decision. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof followed up with a supporting editorial.

Keller and Baquet wrote, “But the virulent hatred espoused by terrorists … is also aimed at our values, at our freedoms and at our faith in the self-government of an informed electorate. If the freedom of the press makes some Americans uneasy; it is anathema to the ideologists of terror.”

Who says “some Americans” are “uneasy” about the freedom of the press? It is not the “freedom” that makes people uneasy but the reckless abuse of that freedom.

Keller and Baquet approvingly quoted Justice Hugo Black, that “The government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.” Yes, but it was not protected to inform our enemies.

Keller and Baquet lamented that they get no credit for deciding not to publish certain stories where they were convinced “the risk of publication outweighed the benefits.”

Well, I personally don’t believe they are entitled to plaudits for acting in the national interest, as if their occasional conquest of an irresistible impulse to betray an administration for which they have seething contempt makes them Nobel-worthy.

More importantly, their previous good deeds do nothing to undo the damage they deliberately inflicted on the national interest and American lives by exposing details of a live-saving program. A first-time murderer is still a murderer. His formerly pristine record will not make his victim any less dead.

Why must these Old Media dinosaurs always cry “censorship” every time someone calls them to the carpet for their irresponsible acts? If anyone is attempting to chill someone else’s speech, it is they. If censorship means simply criticizing speech, then they are guiltier than everyone else put together, because they will not tolerate criticism of their own speech and lash out against their critics.

They need to dismount their high horses and acknowledge that the freedom of speech is neither absolute nor a license for seditious or other irresponsible behavior. Not all speech is constitutionally protected, and some can even be criminal — such as perjury — or an essential element of criminal activity, such as all kinds of conspiracies, including conspiracy to commit murder.

Keller and Baquet wrote, “We understand that honorable people may disagree with any of these choices — to publish or not to publish. But making those decisions is the responsibility that falls to editors, a corollary to the great gift of our independence. It is not a responsibility we take lightly. And it is not one we can surrender to the government.”

Similarly, Nicholas Kristof wrote, “We face a fundamental dispute about the role of the news media in America. At stake is the administration’s campaign to recast the relationship between government and the press.”

These gentlemen seem to be arguing, essentially, that all final judgments concerning what the Old Media withhold and what they release are the prerogative of the Old Media alone — absolutely unchecked, no matter the consequences. Presumably because the First Amendment and our entire library of liberties would vanish otherwise, they want the unfettered freedom to publish classified, sensitive national security secrets even if it will help our enemies to kill us. That is breathtaking.

No one is suggesting the media surrender their responsibility to the government; nor is the administration trying to recast the relationship between government and the press.

But we are suggesting they don’t confuse betrayal with responsibility and that they truly act responsibly instead of abetting the enemy and damaging the American people in the name of helping them.