Monday, January 09, 2006

# Posted 11:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAN THE NEW YORK TIMES INVOKE EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE? After staging the aforementioned cat fight, Tim Russert had a discussion with James Risen, the NYT reporter who broke the story about the NSA doing wiretaps without a warrant.

As everyone inside the Beltway seems to know by now (although I only found out this afternoon), the Times stonewalled its own ombudsman about the process that led up to the publication of Risen'ts story. While hardly the same as wiretapping without a warrant (for which I'd be receptive to a justification if the administration had one), stonewalling one's self-appointed ombudsman speaks to a certain hypocrisy about the importance of transparency in public life.

Now, I'm guessing that the NYT has every legal right to stonewall just about anyone about its internal operations. However, I don't see any way in which such behavior can be thought of as consistent with the journalistic profession's commitment to openness and public education. Which is why the following exchange between Russert and Risen struck me as rather odd:
MR. RUSSERT: Amid much speculation as to why the The New York Times held this story, you had written it, you had finished it, you knew it was—what reflected what your reporting had shown. It may have played a role in the election of 2004 if it had been published in October. Why was it held?

MR. RISEN: Well, I—you know, I can’t get into all the details of what happened at The New York Times. I think I’d rather focus on the fact that it’s been a great public service by The Times that we published this story.
Now why can't Risen get into the details of what happened at the Times? Is it exempt from public oversight? And why didn't Russert hit Risen hard on that subject? Why didn't Russert talk about the Times stonewalling its own ombudsman?

To Russert's credit, he was pretty tough on Risen for possibly tipping off the North Koreans to certain aspects of US intelligence operations. In the greater scheme of things, that's probably more important than office politics at the Times. But here in the blogosphere, we're just a teensy bit obsessed with subjecting prominent journalists to the same standards they impose on others.

In that regard, there was an interesting discussion on PBS NewsHour last Friday night about the situation at the Times. One of the discussants was none other than Alex Jones of Harvard, the former NYT correspondent known for his nasty attacks on bloggers:
[Host] JEFFREY BROWN: All right. And, Alex, what is your take on this story and what it says about the ombudsman and a newspaper's relationship?

ALEX JONES: Well, I think what it really goes to is something that is fundamentally changed in the media. And that is the expectation of a transparency that we've never really had before. I mean, not until relatively recently.
Gee, Alex, who do you think it is that has been pushing so hard for greater transparency on the part of journalists? People who, until recently, didn't have a chance to make their voices heard? Hint: The answer begins with a 'b'.

UPDATE: Hello and welcome to everyone coming here from The Daily Dish. We're much obliged for your visit.
(5) opinions -- Add your opinion

Risen was also on Charlie Rose the other night. I would be interested to hear your take on Charlie Rose considering that you almost never mention him. Charlie Rose would pin Russert in less than 20 seconds.
It would be hard for Russert to question Risen about not going public before the election, when Russert himself was involved in the Valerie Plame affair and did not disclose what he knew about the Bush Administration's involvement before the election.
Answer: Russert is moving to far left. Check out his MTP with Brokaw/Koppell purportedly on journalistic ethics. First segment on Katrina, including all the debunked reporting of massive deaths, etc. Whole 'show' was Bush-bashing. Nothing about 'ethics' which may indicate there are no journalistic ethics, therefore, nothing to discuss.
Is The New York Times exempt from public oversight? Yes. It's a private entity. Its editors are not spending public money, nor are they responsible to the electorate for anything.

The readers can make of the editors' silence on the backstory what they will, but they're perfectly within their rights to let the journalism speak for itself.
to ross -

[surely you know the following - why didn't you address it proleptically in your posting, saving some needless back and forthing?]

The NYT is a non-public entity which claims certain special privileges (which I generally support) because it is an element of the press (cf Amendment, 1st; NYT v. Sullivan; etc.). Further, the NYT implicitly (perhaps even explicitly) claims to meet higher standards and to derive extra authority from those higher standards. The tradeoff for those special privileges is a higher level of scrutiny.
Post a Comment