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.