Last June, in a rare display of journalistic responsibility, the New York Times published an article exposing the Bush administration’s efforts to further undermine civil liberties by prying into private banking transactions without due process. The following month, Byron Calame, the Times’ Public Editor, backed up the story and the paper’s decision to publish it. But now he’s had a change of heart:
Calame’s new position is an endorsement for even less oversight and more absence of media attention.
“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.”
The two factors he cites as having prompted this back flip are, “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.”
On Factor One – Apparent Legality:
Mr. Calame now has doubts about the program’s illegality because, “there have been no Times reports of legal action being taken.” Well, there has been no legal action taken about dozens of BushCo’s legally suspect adventures. Since when is that a determinate of legality from the standpoint of investigative journalism? We have a Republican controlled Congress that refuses to perform its oversight obligations, and a Justice Department headed by Bush’s long-time personal lawyer. If the Times is waiting for them to prosecute wrongdoing on the part of this president, they might as well be waiting for Bush to admit he lied about WMDs. And if Calame thinks he has to wait for the Times to report on prosecutions he should know will never take place, he is being strikingly disingenuous, naive, or both.
On Factor Two – Private Data Misuse:
Mr. Calame is also second-guessing his original conclusions because he has not seen any documentation of harm resulting from the program. Does he really believe that a program that has the potential to produce harm must produce it before the program can be examined by the press? By that standard he would have the Times ignore proposed legislation to bar Episcopalians from voting until the law passed and an Episcopalian voter was turned away at the polls.
Calame cites, “The lack of appropriate oversight – to catch any abuses in the absence of media attention,” as a key reason for originally supporting publication. His new position is an endorsement for even less oversight and more absence of media attention going forward. This is a disappointing reversal that nonetheless affirms the philosophy of News Corpse: The media is dead.