How did Hugh Hewitt miss this??
On April 26, the Wall Street Journal published a scathing editorial entitled, "Our Rotten IntelligenCIA," in which the Journal's editorial board bemoaned the existence of an "unseemly symbiosis between elements of the press corps and a cabal of partisan bureaucrats at the CIA and elsewhere in the 'intelligence community' who have been trying to undermine the Bush Presidency."
According to the Journal, this unholy alliance began with Joe Wilson's op-ed piece about Saddam Hussein, Niger and uranium published in the New York Times, and continued with the CIA allowing the publication of former spook Michael Scheuer's book "Through Our Enemies Eyes," (under the clever pseudonym "Anonymous"), the leaks about the NSA's warrantless surveillance to Times reporter James Risen, and Mary McCarthy's alleged leaks about alleged secret prisons to alleged journalist Dana Priest, allegedly of the Washington Post.
Which brings us to today. In a move that strikes me as fairly extraordinary, the Journal has given editorial space to New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, to allow him to respond to the above.
One paragraph in his response leapt off the page at me:
In addition to fair treatment in the news pages, presidents are entitled to a respectful and attentive hearing, particularly when they make claims based on the safety of the country. In the case of the eavesdropping story, President Bush and other figures in his administration were given abundant opportunities to explain why they felt our information should not be published. We considered the evidence presented to us, agonized over it, delayed publication because of it. In the end, their case did not stand up to the evidence our reporters amassed, and we judged that the responsible course was to publish what we knew and let readers assess it themselves. You are welcome to question that judgment, but you have presented no basis for challenging it, let alone for attributing it to bad faith or animus toward the president. [Emphasis Cranky's again]Let me get this straight. Did Keller just say that the New York Times editorial board is a better judge of this country's national security interests than the President is?
Let me double check this.
The President tells the Times that the publication of X is potentially damaging to America's national security. The Times "considers" the evidence presented to it by the President, "agonizes" over it, and initially "delays publication" of X.
But "in the end," the unelected members of the Times board determine that the President did not prove to their satisfaction that X's publication would be damaging to national security, so they decide that they should "publish what they know" and "let readers assess it themselves." And then what - if the readers' assessment is that the President was right, the Times would unpublish it???
(I should make it clear that I'm not interested here in the legality of the Times' publication of James Risen's stories, or of any news organization's airing of classified information that it obtained legally. I'm not a lawyer, and this is clearly a complicated legal issue that is way above my pay grade.)
It strikes me that there are two possible flip responses to Keller's assertion, the first being that the good news is that Keller, in his arrogance, actually admitted what many have long suspected: that the editorial staff of the New York Times really does think it runs the country. Great. I'm raising issues of profound importance to the very future of this country, indeed the world, and you're cracking wise.
The second is "Well, the Times' editorial board is a better judge of America's national security interests than President Bush." Okay, fine. I'll even grant you that point (without agreeing to it), because I don't think it makes any difference with regards to my point. But as a thought experiment, think of this in the abstract, purely theoretically, with no names or ideologies assigned to any of the players. The President could be anyone and the Times' board could have any (or no) ideological leanings. (Hey, I said this was purely theoretical.) Are you still okay with it? Better yet, let's say you thought that this theoretical President's vision of America's future was crystal clear, that you trusted her to make nothing but wise decisions that were always in the best interest of the nation. Would you then be okay with the editorial board of a theoretical newspaper overriding these decisions?
I certainly don't mean to imply that the President alone should be the arbiter of what constitutes the national security interests of America. As a libertarian, the notion of that kind of concentration of power scares the hell out of me. But at the same time, I'm not particularly happy about a newspaper's editorial board abrogating to itself the right to final cut on issues of national security. Nobody voted for whomever at the Times made the decision that he or she (or they) knew what was best for America: none of the people involved in this decision had their views on national security vetted by the public, whose security it is that's at stake here. There's a list of political and economic systems in which unelected "elites" determine what's best for the lowly proletariat, and neither capitalism nor democracy is on it.
In a democracy, if you want the authority to implement your opinions in decisions regarding the national interest, you have to have the stones to put those opinions up to a public vote first. And if for some reason that assertion is wrong, then I want my daddy to give me a newspaper, too.