The Hoopla Over the NYT

I confess to being a little bemused by the hysteria in some parts of the blogosphere about the NYT publishing details of the government’s close monitoring of some financial transactions in the war on terror. I should qualify that by saying that the argument against the press is the strongest I’ve yet read in any of these cases. Unlike the NSA wire-tapping program, or the secret torture prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, this program does not seem to be illegal, or only legal under the doctrine that anything the president does in the war is de facto legal. It seems carefully structured to prevent abuse of privacy, it appears to have been effective (although you and I have no way of knowing for sure). If I were Bill Keller (fat chance, I know), I probably wouldn’t publish.

On the other hand, publishing it does not, it seems to me, obviously render the program ineffective. And the Malkinesque charges of treason seem a little, er, excitable. The press publishes stuff that doesn’t always help the government in wartime. Duh. In a democracy, in a war which has sharply divided the country, this is hardly a big surprise. If the NYT didn’t do it, someone in the government would find a way to leak it in another way. One wonders what would happen in Power Line’s perfect world, where the MSM always followed the government’s advice in wartime, suppressed news of defeats and setbacks, and avoided any damaging revelations that might encourage the enemy or inform citizens of government errors or abuses. Let’s say someone within the administration still wanted to leak the program. Wouldn’t they just give the info to an anti-Bush blogger? And would the damage be any less than it is – in today’s media universe? In a paradoxical way, some bloggers both want to dismiss the NYT and then describe it as the essential gateway for all important information. It cannot be both. In today’s transparent, web-based media, wars are just going to be subject to more scrutiny – especially divisive wars, run by controversial presidents, with as many opponents within the government as outside it. Get used to it. And take a Xanax.