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Times editor helps Bush nail Constitution into its coffin, trashes democracy

Bryan Calame comes through, big time. (The brains trust at Izvestia on the Hudson must be kicking themselves they weren't ruthless enough to gut the ombudsman position entirely, like Pravda on the Potomac did when they replaced Michael Getler with L'il Debbie Howell.)

See, one problem the Times has these days is that it doesn't think of itself as a newspaper anymore. The World's Greatest Newspaper (not!) doesn't want to write the first draft of history anymore--they want to write the second draft. The draft covered with dust in the archives that nobody reads. I don't know why this is. Maybe they don't want to get their trouser cuffs dirty? Maybe there's Kool-Aid in the cocktail wienies? Maybe it's just so warm and comfy in the tank? Maybe it's the Stockholm syndrome?

So who writes the first draft, then, if The Times doesn't? The draft that everyone actually reads and votes on? Why, the Republicans, of course.

Example:

The New York Times for five weeks during the 2000 campaign refused to even acknowledge the Boston Globe's page 1 story [and remember the Times owns the Globe] detailing how Bush had walked away from his Texas Air National Guard duties.

Example:

The New York Times didn't cover the "bourgeois riot" in Florida 2000, where the Republicans paid staffers and operatives from DC come to Miami and halt the vote counting through intimidation until after Bush was selected by the Supreme Court--even though they had videos at the time, could have matched faces to names, and heck, the rioters were all guys they'd shared cocktail wienies with anyhow, so they had to know them.

Example, thanks to Bryan Calame:

Eavesdropping and the Election: An Answer on the Question of Timing
But contradictory post-publication comments by Times editors and others about just how long the article was held have left me increasingly concerned about one key question: Did The Times mislead readers by stating that any delay in publication came after the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election?

Excellent question:

But I have now learned from Bill Keller, the executive editor, that The Times delayed publication of drafts of the eavesdropping article before the 2004 election. This revelation confirms what anonymous sources had told other publications such as The Los Angeles Times and The New York Observer in December.

Which I've been saying for some time. We can mau-mau the reporters all we want, and the God of Your Choice knows they deserve it, but really, the editors are the problem. They determine which stories get covered, who covers them, when (or if) they get printed, and whether they get frontpaged or buried. Plus they do the hiring and the firing, and set the newsroom culture. The editors are the managers--so by definition, they have the responsibility for the problem. Eh?

Case in point, Bill "Helen" Keller. Thanks to Calame, we now know how and why Times exective editor Keller suppressed the story of Bush's illegal warrantless domestic surveillance until after Bush was safely elected.

The story begins with a question from a reader in an online forum. (Note well: This is what happens when you start opening the news cycle to knowledgeable readers, even just a little bit.)

My decision to take another look at the extent of the delay came after reading Mr. Keller’s response to an online question in April during “Talk to the Newsroom,” a feature on nytimes.com. Eric Sullivan, from Waunakee, Wis., commented: “I’d like to know why you sat on the N.S.A. story. You probably changed the course of an election and likely history to come.”

Mr. Keller’s rather matter-of-fact acceptance of Mr. Sullivan’s presumptions caught my eye: “Whether publishing earlier would have influenced the 2004 election is, I think, hard to say. Judging from the public reaction to the N.S.A. eavesdropping reflected in various polls, one could ask whether earlier disclosure might have helped President Bush more than hurt.”

So Calame tries to interview Keller. Keller stonewalls, but finally agrees:

Internal discussions about drafts of the article had been “dragging on for weeks” before the Nov. 2 election, Mr. Keller acknowledged. That process had included talks with the Bush administration. He said a fresh draft was the subject of internal deliberations “less than a week” before the election.

“The climactic discussion about how to suppress whether to publish was right on the eve of the election,” Mr. Keller said. The pre-election discussions included Jill Abramson, a managing editor; Philip Taubman, the chief of the Washington bureau; Rebecca Corbett, the editor handling the story, and often [the reporter] Mr. Risen. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, was briefed, but Mr. Keller said the final decision to hold the story was his.

Right-oh. Publish it when it's news and you've got the first draft of history. But the Times isn't really a newspaper any more. They're more into second drafts. Not so much risk. So much more cozy.

So Keller suppresses the story, for two reasons. First, the Bush administration told Keller that the program was legal, and their word was good enough for Keller.

[Keller] has repeatedly indicated that a major reason for the publication delays was the administration’s claim that everyone involved was satisfied with the program’s legality.

Amazing. Remember, this is well after Gonzales found the Geneva convention "quaint," which would tell any insider everything they need to know about the Republican attitude toward legality; internal treaties like the Geneva convention are the law of the land.

Second, Keller thinks that only Kool-Aid drinkers are credible whistleblowers. Keller believed:

[that] he paper’s pre-election sources hadn’t been sufficiently “well-placed and credible” to convince him that questions about the program’s legality and oversight were serious enough to make it “responsible to publish.” But by December, he wrote, “We now had some new people who could in no way be characterized as disgruntled bureaucrats [like Richard Clarke or Joe Wilson or Lawrence Wilkerson or ...] or war-on-terror doves [in the NSA?] saying we should publish. That was a big deal.

Third, Keller believed that breaking the story before the election wouldn't be "fair." To the Republicans:

Holding a fresh draft of the story just days before the election also was an issue of fairness, Mr. Keller said. I agree that candidates affected by a negative article deserve to have time — several days to a week — to get their response disseminated before voters head to the polls.

Which could barely be credible--If Keller hadn't been working on drafts "for weeks" before the election. And if, by discussing the article with the Republicans, "for weeks," Keller hadn't already given the most powerful chief executive in the world more than ample time to prepare.

Well. Apparently Keller didn't consider fairness to the voters, who were making up their minds in the midst of a closely contested election.

Because this story is a "big deal." It's about:

1. Bush breaking the law, FISA, by executing a massive surveillance program without getting a warrant from the FISA court--which had turned down 5 requests in its decades of existence. Breaking the law is a "big deal;" when Keller finally took the lid off the story, those wimpy liberals at Barron's called for Bush to be impeached.

2. Bush trashing the Constitution under the theory of the unilateral executive--that must have been the basis on which the Republicans assured Keller the program was legal--is a "big deal." The theory of the unilateral executive trashes the separation of powers that the Founders carefully put in place to protect us against tyranny (Federalist 47). So, as Bush went to work in the White House to transform our government into something approaching a monarchy, Keller didn't break the story that would have let us vote on it.

3. Finally, the county needs a strong free press if our democracy is to be preserved. (That's the difference between us and the wingers. The wingers want a press that is free to repeat the latest Republican talking points, just like they do. We just want the newspapers to get back to their mission of covering the news.) That may be the biggest "big deal" of all. What kind of "freedom" do we have, if we're kept in the dark about of the consequences of our votes?

Ben Franklin, printer and Philadelphian, wrote in his Apology for Printers:

Being frequently censur'd and condemn'd by different Persons for printing Things which they say ought not to be printed, I have sometimes thought it might be necessary to make a standing Apology for my self, and publish it once a Year, to be read upon all Occasions of that Nature.

What Franklin means ironically, Keller, writing "second drafts" of history, seems to have taken literally.

If all Printers were determin'd not to print any thing till they were sure it would offend no body, there would be very little printed.

Yep.

Printers are educated in the Belief, that when Men differ in Opinion, both Sides ought equally to have the Advantage of being heard by the Publick; and that when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter.

And that's the kind of "fair" play that the Founders had in mind.

Unlike Bill Keller.

NOTE: Makes you wonder what stories Keller's got his pasty ass planted on now, doesn't it? Since we wouldn't want to be "unfair" to the Republicans before the midterms. Would we?

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