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September 25, 2006

The United States of America vs. Bill Keller

Joe Hagan has an excellent article in the September 18th issue of the New York Metro: The United States of America vs Bill Keller. The article describes how various personalities, power struggles, and politics shaped the Times' coverage of the NSA domestic spying scandal.

There's so much information in the article that I had to read it twice to absorb it all. I highly recommend it to anyone who's interested in the New York Times gossip, the NSA scandal, and the Bush administration's attempts to criminalize journalism.


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Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. has a lot of power. He is the publisher of the New York Times, the so-called paper of record. What he says goes in the paper, goes in the paper unless someone wants to put their job on the line to prevent it. And wh... [Read More]


The cited article passes on misinformation.

"a national poll shows 54 percent of Americans in favor of wiretapping without warrants."

See the ACLU poll for comparison.

What happens is that somebody puts out a poll saying "Do you support the President's plan to wiretap terrorists" and they get a large number that measures only public support for a wiretapping terrorists, and not for warrantless wiretapping, which, to be honest, are two entirely different things.

The ACLU poll shows strong opposition to warrantless wiretapping, with 55% "strongly oppposed". There is, tellingly, a 13% bounce if the word "terrorist" is included in the question. Of course, wiretapping terrorists is already allowed under FISA.

Only 33% say that the President should be able to eavesdrop without a warrant, and only 24% feel this way strongly. (One suspects these 24% would feel very strongly the other way if a Democrat were in the White House.)

I'm guilty of pulling a quote from the first page without reading the whole article. It's long and I don't have the time! And that number cited is deeply wrong and needs to be rebutted every time it crops up.

Summary of all the points I found interesting, since there was alot of cruft in there I really didn't care about.

“The basic message,” recalls Keller, “was, ‘You’ll have blood on your hands.’

This comment really jumped out at me. They would be willing to blame a newspaper for their failure to stop a terrorist attack. Preemptive blame?

This quote I also found interesting:

"The consensus that emerged was that the paper should not pursue an internal review on the scale of what had been done following Jayson Blair because it would be too damaging for a newsroom still recovering from that scandal."

Seems that they were too worried over the reactions of their newsroom, and not worried enough about the integrity of their news or their newspapers image.

Found this bit about Judith Miller interesting, not very flattering for JM.

He did make one critical decision, though; when Miller tried to claim that Abramson had known about her reporting on the Plame case, Abramson said Miller was lying.

An excerpt which shows how in bed the media is with the government, and also that they put politics above reporting the news:

Shortly after Taubman was briefed by the Bush administration, Keller himself met with Rice, Hayden, and others. “I think they were shocked they were having to share this with journalists,” Keller recalls. But, sitting on a potentially explosive piece of news that could tip the presidential election to John Kerry, Keller was persuaded by the administration’s counterarguments and decided against publishing Risen’s revelations.

I honestly believe after reading this paragraph, that the Times probably would never have published the story had Risen not backed them into a corner of further discredit amongst the media. Very sad.

In a long e-mail about the origins of the spying story, Keller was adamant that the book had not been the “deciding factor” in publishing. The “conventional wisdom” that Risen’s book forced the paper to publish the story, he writes, “is bullshit.”

And even later afterwards, they were still worrying about what Washington would think about the story, and doing what they were told....

There, Lelyveld advised Keller to publish but also not to overplay it with a big headline on page one.

Again, very demonstrative that they weighed public opinion on whether or not to run a piece, not whether the piece merited running on it's own. Very sad for a news agency like the NYT.

“There was an erosion of the administration’s credibility, not just with us, but with the public,” he said, “as more and more was revealed—including in the Times, by the way—about the use of intelligence in the run-up to the war.

Again, this comment about the Bush Administration shouldn't have been necessary, and was very dissapointing.

“As time passed,” he added, “they’ve demonstrated that they’re entitled to somewhat less benefit of the doubt.”

I guess at the end of the entire article I'm left feeling the NYT is now desperate for income, has been willing to do the bidding of the administration, and until recently, capable of holding the administration accountable for it's actions after others have paved the way for them.

Still no explanation of the Judith Miller affair. But I am supposed to accept Keller and Sulzberger's decisions about who is and is not "credible"? For some reason, I don't think I shall.


I think Hagan intends for the reader to regard every figure in that story with considerable suspicion.

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