Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"Who's the M.A.C.?" - America’s trust in its media has declined precipitously due to the media’s fixation with maligning America’s leaders, institutions and traditions in pursuit of the next big story. But the greater offense on the part of the media is symbolized by its overarching efforts to subvert U.S. foreign policy, with the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today leaking sensitive information about specific tactics in the War on Terror.

After the June 23, 2006 publication of a Times’ story on the U.S. government examining international banking transactions by using data from the Brussels-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).† With this story following on the heels of the Times’ revelations about the NSA’s monitoring of international phone conversations, there were calls on the part of many, both in and outside of government for some sort of sanction against media outlets that reveal information about covert government security operations. In response to these criticisms, Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, responded with an open letter that was printed in the newspaper, and was also sent to readers who wrote to comment on the SWIFT story. Mr. Keller’s letter read in part:

Since September 11, 2001, our government has launched broad and secret anti-terror monitoring programs without seeking authorization and without fully briefing the Congress. Most Americans seem to support extraordinary measures in defense against this extraordinary threat, but some officials who have been involved in these programs have spoken to the Times about their discomfort over the legality of the government’s actions and over the adequacy of oversight. We believe The Times and others in the press have served the public interest by accurately reporting on these programs so that the public can have an informed view of them.
It is noteworthy that the “officials” that Mr. Keller cites see the Times as their first line of recourse. But more often than not, these would-be whistleblowers are not acting out a concern for honest government. (Keller admits as much in a July 1, 2006 op-ed in which he notes, “Sensitive stories do not fall into our hands. They may begin with a tip from a source who has a grievance or a guilty conscience.”) These tipsters seek out the media as a means to derail the program in question, with the Times serving as an all too eager accomplice. Mr. Keller went on to comment:
It’s not our job to pass judgment on whether this program is legal or effective, but the story cites strong arguments from proponents that this is the case. While some experts familiar with the program have doubts about its legality, which has never been tested in the courts, and while some bank officials worry that a temporary program has taken on an air of permanence, we cited considerable evidence that the program helps catch and prosecute financers of terror, and we have not identified any serious abuses of privacy so far. A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don’t know about it.
We can at least take comfort that Mr. Keller is loath to “preempt the role of legislators and courts,” and is willing to confine his ambitions solely to the usurpation of executive power. Mr. Keller seems troubled by the SWIFT program not because it is discernibly unlawful, or that it represents an infringement on the privacy of Americans, but simply because not everyone was aware of it, or not enough people to suit the Times. And as it pertains to the government examining international banking transactions, Mr. Keller should explain exactly what is there left for legislators and the courts to discuss, especially now that the program has been exposed?

In regards to the SWIFT program, as well as the NSA “eavesdropping” program, the Times has presided over its own kangaroo court, acting as both judge and jury. And in so doing, it has shown its thorough contempt for ordinary Americans and their concerns. This conduct once again signifies that the media see themselves apart from America; they do not sense the same threat from terrorism as do most of us. The media’s vaunted pursuit of objectivity has transmogrified into an alienation from the realities of the everyday.

† As it pertains to the SWIFT program, the Times plumbs the depths of duplicity in as much as it opined in a September 24, 2001 editorial, “Much more is needed, including stricter regulations, the recruitment of specialized investigators and greater cooperation with foreign banking authorities.” (Emphasis added.)

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