Sunday, January 01, 2006

NY Times Public Editor: Keller, Sulzberger "Stonewalled" Me
NY Times Public Editor: Keller, Sulzberger "Stonewalled" Me
RJ Eskow

New York Times Public Editor Byrom Calame today called the paper's explanations of its delay in publishing the NSA story "woefully inadequate," and says he has had "unusual difficulty" getting answers. "For the first time since I became public editor," writes Calame, " the executive editor and the publisher have declined to respond to my requests for information about news-related decision-making." He describes their non-response as "stonewalling."

I addressed five simple questions to the Times when the story first broke. Calame says he sent 28 questions to Bill Keller and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., both of whom refused to respond.

Of my own five questions, they've indirectly and partially answered one so far. I wanted to know under what grounds they considered it appropriate to conceal knowledge of potentially illegal government activity for a year, which the editor addressed in a piece on the story.

Their stated grounds for withholding the story, according to Keller, were that (unnamed) "Administration officials" assured them that all the wiretaps had in fact been done legally, and that breaking the story might help terrorists. Regarding the legality of the wiretaps, Keller wrote that the unnamed officials "assured senior editors of The Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions."

That part of the explanation doesn't wash. If the Times was convinced that "no legal questions" had been raised, then what was the newsworthiness of the story? What would the headline have been: "Wiretaps Conducted Legally, As Were Many Others"?

My other questions have yet to be answered. Calame raised one of my issues - whether they knew of this wiretapping activity before the election - but was given no answer.

Nor is there an answer to this question of mine: "Which officials in the Administration asked you to delay publication of this story?" How could national security be compromised by telling us who persuaded you to hold this story - especially when it's now clear they misled you on the issue of legality? Once again, the Times is protecting dishonest sources at the expense of the public's right to know.

Oh, wait - they have answered another question of mine, if only by example. I asked:

Will the New York Times conduct a public investigation of its decision to delay publication, so it can demonstrate to its readers than the decision was genuinely based on national security -- and not just another case of press manipulation for political purposes?

I think the stonewalling of Byron Calame provides an answer in full to this question.

(thanks to Atrios for an early heads-up on the Calame piece)