-Justice Hugo Black, New York Times Co. v. United States, 1971
How art the mighty fallen.
The quotation above comes from the Supreme Court's opinion on a case in which the NY Times sued the U.S. Government over its right to publish the Pentagon Papers (on the origins of the Vietnam War), and won. The Court upheld the plaintiff, and in so doing declared that “any attempt by the Government to block news articles prior to publication bears a heavy burden of presumption against its constitutionality” (NY Times, July 1, 1971).
The Times just squandered its victory.
Why this should be shocking to me I have no idea, except for the fact that I held the (admittedly unexamined) belief that the NY Times, because of its wide readership- and its history of fighting for the right to free speech- was somewhat immune to the immense pressure (not to say threat) which the Bush White House has repeatedly exerted in order to quash stories unfavorable to it. On such a reputation, in the past, has the Times built the authority it holds today.
Well, as recorded below, the Times' authority has taken a blow- its dereliction of duty in this case is extreme and unjustifiable:
The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article… After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted. [emphasis added] (NY Times, December 16,2005)
How on earth did the Times’ editorial board justify such a delay to themselves? “We need a year’s worth of data to determine exactly how many domestic wiretaps the government does per annum”? Bullshit. Even Congress has to jump through hoops to get those numbers.
A year for "additional reporting"?
No free newspaper should wait a year to report that it's uncovered evidence that the United States government has repeatedly and flagrantly violated both the Fourth Amendment and its own laws- even the totalitarian Patriot Act does not entitle the government to randomly conduct searches at will, which is precisely what these roving wiretaps constitute. Hell, no non-government-operated newspaper should wait a month to break that kind of story.
JHFC. I can’t write any more on this right now; further comment on this- delinquency- is going to strain my ability to keep my invective semi-civilized.
From the same newspaper, however, comes a faint glimmer of integrity that has not (yet) been garroted.
There is a profoundly disturbing story on child pornography via webcam on the Times site. I mention it not only because it brings up distressing questions on a number of levels (seeing a person be co-opted into collaborating in their own victimization makes my gut roil), but because the author (who is one of the Times’ star reporters), actually convinced the subject of the story to stop what he was doing, and to talk to a federal investigator.
Essentially, the reporter pressed for and made possible a federal investigation that has already resulted in the indictments of child pornographers, and has the potential to result in the indictments of hundreds more.
That’s investigative journalism. That’s what a free press is supposed to do. And it’s becoming increasingly rare.
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