Monday, June 26, 2006

The New York Times and Partisanism in America

Can a news story be an act of treason? Could it be criminal? Some people think so and are accusing the New York Times of crossing the line between journalism and the criminal release of national secrets.

The issue centers around the Times’ recent publication of details pertaining to a secret U.S. espionage program tracking the international banking transactions of suspected terrorist groups and their operatives. The Times’, unsurprisingly, defends their decision as the great and bountiful right of a free press. Others, however, see it quite differently.

Whether or not the Times committed anything close to a criminal act, I don’t know. But I do question the paper’s motivations. Unlike the revelation that the NSA has been monitoring the calling patterns of American citizens, this new revelation is not particularly bothersome. The program seems specifically targeted at terrorists and is by no means a broad, boundless fishing expedition. Nor does it seem, at this point, to be the kind of program that can easily be abused (although I could be wrong about that).

Clearly, the Times thought the public’s need to know outweighed the program’s need for secrecy. The Times knew full well it was compromising a useful tool in the fight against terrorism, but chose to run the story anyway. My concern is that the decision was not based on an unbiased commitment to printing essential news but was based on the Time’s partisan disgust with the Bush administration.

As our nation continues to bifurcate, I worry that even our most stalwart media sources are making decisions as politically biased (or as nearly politically biased) as those made by partisan blogs. Does the political usefulness of a story now outweigh other concerns? Did the Times care more about “getting Bush” than it did about the security of the nation?

After years of suffering the harsh and vituperative attacks of rightwing pundits, is the Times, as a means of self-defense, now truly allied with the interests of the left? I’ve often claimed that liberal bias in the media is mostly a figment, but is that changing?

A lot of people are confident they know the answers to the questions I ask. I don’t claim such clarity of vision. But I do see, if not in the Times’ story than at least in the rightwing reaction to the story and the Times’ own response, a drawing of battle lines that shouldn’t be drawn. A news story should not be right or left. Concern for national security should not be right or left. Concern that our government is operating within the law should not be right or left.

But it’s all becoming right or left. All issues. And that’s a bad thing for our nation. These voices of disunity are shaping our debates. But where are the voices of unity? Where are the reasoned leaders, in the media and in our government, who can see the world through eyes not so blindly partisan? I ask that question a lot. And I think (I hope) an answer is coming soon.


Anonymous bookworm said...

While a news organization should take responsiblity in what it publish and tread carefully if there are national security issues in a story, why did President Bush focus is anger solely on the NYT and leave LAT and WSJ out of his comments? Wouldn't the fact that this story was printed by several newspapers with different political perspectives mean that it was not a left/right story? Finally, do people really think that it never occured to Bin Laudin that the US would try to get information from tracking financial data?

9:28 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Ace of Spades had an interesting, if over-the-top, take on this:

While tools like this are vital for saving American lives, [the MSM] will not permit any Republican President to use them. Only Democratic Presidents are permitted to employ the full panoply of powers for protecting American lives.

It's blackmail, pure and simple.
[...] Let the politicians we favor run the country, or we will help Al Qaeda murder you.

1:15 PM  
Blogger AubreyJ said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:19 PM  
Blogger AubreyJ said...

Bin Laden and all the other terrorists know we surely want to kill them too.
But I don’t think it’s a good idea to send him the plans before we try to take them out!
(Alan, this post follows one like you did last month... Both very good reads.)

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The NYT publishes an editorial after 9/11 specifically calling for and advocating for the administration to track down and cut off the funding to terrorists. Then the administration does that and they get punished. When Valerie Plame was "outed" the NYT constantly demanded a special prosecutor find the source of the leak. Democrats quickly fell in line and followed suit. Now they are silent. I believe your fear is well founded. The venerable NYT's motto used to be "All the news that's fit to print" I think it is now "All the news that's fit to be fabricated" or "All the news to support the left". That said - Sun Tzu said, "Know thy enemy" - so if you are in the middle (centrist) or on the right - then read the NYT - at least you will know what the left is thinking. If you are on the left and think the Times is performing a public service.....well, not really sure what to say, although Goebbels comes to mind.

I have to disagree though with the notion that media isn't biased. It is - and overwhelmingly to the left. Fortunately we live in a free market - and people are able to vote eith their dollars - hence the rise of Fox news (which is also obviously biased to the right, even if they deny it) and the decline of traditional media like CNN, NYT, etc.

10:01 PM  

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