Self-examination from the Fourth Estate — "Yep, still there."
June 26, 2006 4:02 PM   Subscribe

"And yet the people who invented this country saw an aggressive, independent press as a protective measure against the abuse of power in a democracy, and an essential ingredient for self-government." Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, publicly responds to criticisms on the publication of information about clandestine surveillance of private bank records of Americans, offering a rare glimpse into the Fourth Estate's complicated negotiations with the government over issues of public interest.
posted by Mr. Six (58 comments total)
I'm reminded, constantly, of the two-year three and a half year old remark by the anonymous State Department official: "I just wake up in the morning and tell myself, 'There's been a military coup,' and then it all makes sense."
posted by Unregistered User at 4:06 PM on June 26, 2006

Keller makes an implicit point that one issue of concern is not that the terrorists will now be informed that we spy on them [they already know this] but instead will be if the telecommunications companies or banking institutions pull their support for these spy programs due to consumer pressures. So far they have shown no real signs of pulling their support.
posted by Rashomon at 4:17 PM on June 26, 2006

Bill Keller is a pussy. On the first page he strikes at the heart of reasoning for a free press, yet on the second attempts to appease the administration.

You know fuck this, when the NY Times can't stand by its decisions to publish without proffering apologetic lines, something is wrong. This is not the Times I grew up with. Insult to injury --- now they want me to pay for a Times Select subscription?

Here's an open letter to Mr. Keller:

Dear Mr. Keller,

Stop apologising for doing your fucking job -- which is reporting the news. Please don't let the "administration" ever get in the way of facts. All of us readers would have forgiven you for being blindsided by 9/11 and even Jayson Blair - but now the Times is a mere shadow of itself.

Please find a real editor to take over the paper.


Your Readers
posted by Funmonkey1 at 4:18 PM on June 26, 2006

Some of the reporting in The Times and elsewhere prior to the war in Iraq was criticized for not being skeptical enough of the Administration's claims about the Iraqi threat.

That's an interesting way of putting it.
posted by euphorb at 4:24 PM on June 26, 2006


I couldn't agree more. Trying to read The Times these days is fucking infuriating. Every time I read a spineless article that plays lip service to being balanced I can feel the beginning of an aneurysm. Whenever intelligent design is compared to evolution, or global warming is referred to as a hotly debated topic, or large stories are ignored I find my desire to never read the paper again swell upwards, only to be defeated by their occasionally excellent pieces of investigative reporting.

A case and point being the one about abortion in El Salvador, although its already in their archives.

Oh well, I would like to believe something will come of this, but I know otherwise reasonable people who seem to think that it will help protect them.

"Give me liberty, or give me death"
posted by sourbrew at 4:26 PM on June 26, 2006

Mild disclaimer: a relative works for the Times.

What I find so funny are the little idiots milling around suggesting that the Times should be "executed for treason" and nonsense like that. Hugh Hewitt was on CNN a few hours ago talking about the potential "aid to terrorists" the story provided.

It's absolutely amazing to me, because they say all this shit only because they know it would never fucking happen. If George W. Bush order stormtroopers into the Times building to haul Bill Keller away, or if Tim McVeigh actually carried out Ann Coulter's masturbatory fantasy and blew the building up, they'd be the first to shit their fucking pants. That's why it's so damn aggravating to even consider the idea that print media is taking the vomit spewing from television media even remotely seriously.

They don't need a roundtable discussion on security in a time of war; they need a copy of Book 10 of Transmetropolitan. That pretty much explains the entire damn ecosystem.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:29 PM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

sourbrew . Funny thing if the Times just let its balls grow back, probably others would follow.

I can't and can believe the editors at the Times are scared given the current political winds, but that is when truly a free press and its ideals mean the most. The Times just kind of looked around and decided to go for an extended lunch.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 4:35 PM on June 26, 2006

This is not the Times I grew up with.

How long ago did you grow up? Studies of the New York Times show a systematic pro-government bias on "issues of public interest" back to at least the Vietnam War.
posted by Chuckles at 4:40 PM on June 26, 2006

On MSNBC's 'Hardball' this afternoon Ron Suskind was interviewed about his own revelation of the surveillance of banking records in his new book 'One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11.' He and other commentators pointed out that this is 'old news' and that most people (intelligence analysts, terrorists, etc.) deduced/inferred that it was one of the U.S. intelligence techniques and has had diminishing returns since 9/12/2001. No, big whoop! Bush's and Cheney's current "outrage" is a naked attempt to yet again "blame the media."
posted by ericb at 4:44 PM on June 26, 2006

Rashomon: one issue of concern is [what] if the telecommunications companies or banking institutions pull their support for these spy programs due to consumer pressures. So far they have shown no real signs of pulling their support.

That's because in a fascist state, the government and the corporations are one great single-minded beast.
posted by oncogenesis at 4:45 PM on June 26, 2006

This is going to sound simplistic, but I think it bears repeating: corporations own the governemtnand they also own the press. Corporations only care about us because we give them money. The New York Times doesn't give a shit about its readers, except that it wants them to continue to buy the paper.

If the New York Times really cared about its readers, they would make it clear that this whole concern about terrorism is actually the reverse of how they report it-- the people controlling us by fear are the government. Any legitimate fear of being one of a tiny number of victims of terror is being amplified by our government to justify spying on you, in case you want to prevent our government from doing whatever the hell it wants in the name of profits for the companies that own it.

The New York Times won't say that. And it won't say straight up that we're in a foreign quagmire because of lust for petroleum. And that's because it and all its friends are in bed with the government and doesn't care if you know what's what.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:46 PM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

otherwise reasonable people who seem to think that it will help protect them

It won't. All it's going to do is give the government extra means to find the few dissenters lucky enough to have bank accounts after the American economy does a full scale collapse by 2012. The people who felt warmed and comforted by these types of actions by this administration will be too busy foraging for cans of Alpo, and huddling under threadbare blankets to give a shit.

Man, I gotta stop smoking that doom weed.
posted by psmealey at 4:47 PM on June 26, 2006

Chuckles, your link-fu is weak. There is a big difference between being pro-government and a push over.

Come back when you have more experience reading the NY Times versus internet case theory.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 4:47 PM on June 26, 2006

Dear Government,

If you would stop spying on your own citizens, the newspapers would stop reporting that you spy on your own citizens.



Dear New York Times,

If the new rule of journalism is "balanced" reporting, and the opposing point of view to the truth is a lie, does that mean 50% of your articles are lies? If you know in advance which are lies and which are truth, then does that make you liars or just cowards?


posted by eustacescrubb at 4:50 PM on June 26, 2006

Anyone who thinks this sort of battle is anything new in the history of the USA should read American Aurora. Actually, anyone who hasn't should read that book, it's incredible. It's (mostly) primary sources from the broadsheets and newspapers of the 1790s, and makes for an exciting, entertaining, and transcendantly elucidating read.
posted by freebird at 4:53 PM on June 26, 2006

He says this :
"Who are the editors of The New York Times ... to disregard the wishes of the President and his appointees?.."

"Our default position — our job — is to publish information if we are convinced it is fair and accurate..."

and then right in the 2nd page, he writes:

Our decision to publish the story of the Administration's penetration of the international banking system followed weeks of discussion between Administration officials and The Times, not only the reporters who wrote the story but senior editors, including me...


The very fact that they sat and "discussed" it with with Administration before publishing it speaks volumes about how shit-deep they are in the hole they've dug for themselves. Did anyone tell Bill that the story was supposed to be an anti-govt expose? And they want me to pay for TimesSelect?
posted by forwebsites at 4:54 PM on June 26, 2006

I will go out on a limb and suggestg that this sort of thing has b een going on for some time and might be traced back to the "war on drugs." Some time ago a guy who alwayhs struck me as leading a rather odd life was invited to a tv show. He talked about the work of his foundation (I sujspected he workded for tghe agency). Asked what his foundation did, was all about, he said they monitored the international flow of money that was related to illegals drugs. My first thought: how can a prilvate group monitor what obviously calls for access to banking records.
posted by Postroad at 4:56 PM on June 26, 2006

Clearly the Repubs' fax machines were working this morning.

Memo to everyone: NYT bad! Treason! Make as many waves as you can about this. Focus exclusively on the NYT, and do_not_relent. Report in tomorrow for a briefing on next week's non-issue-to-be-blown-out-of-proportion. -- Karly.
posted by diastematic at 4:56 PM on June 26, 2006

Bush himself announced this program--this is such a crock of shit--the people who should be charged with treason are the ones doing the accusing (a frequent m.o. of this administration)

...We will starve terrorists of funding, ...
This is not, however, just America's fight. And what is at stake is not just America's freedom. This is the world's fight. This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.

We ask every nation to join us. We will ask, and we will need, the help of police forces, intelligence services, and banking systems around the world. ...
posted by amberglow at 5:12 PM on June 26, 2006

What's hysterical tho, are all the Nixon comparisons the media are making--perfect.
posted by amberglow at 5:13 PM on June 26, 2006

That, Freebird, was a fascinating link. Thank you.
posted by Haruspex at 5:18 PM on June 26, 2006

where's Judith Miller when you need her the most?
posted by matteo at 5:20 PM on June 26, 2006

One persons (a kiwi's) story, well written and erudite --and an inside view*--of how these things work to victimize people: On Western Union, National security, money overseas transfers

It's long, but well worth the read*, I was so angry after reading it I wanted to stomp on baby ducks...

Here's a taste,

Anyway this young fella had been sending money back to family in Pakistan and like many followers of Islam his name was the same as or similar to about ten zillion other followers of Islam.

Anyway he sent about NZD $3000 to his family to help with the cost of his young sister's marriage.

The money was meant to go directly from NZ to Pakistan, but had somehow never arrived. Without going too deeply into this chap and his favorite sister's business, those who understand how marriage is handled in rural undeveloped societies will understand what a disaster something like this can be.


Western Union was the only alternative for the slaughterman. Not only had the money disappeared the Post office staff couldn't tell him where it was.

They could only tell him that they had been told, the money's whereabouts were a "matter of National security".

This is what they said when I rang them too.

"what national security?" I said "We don't have anything to feel insecure about, this is crazy. What's the SIS doing with this blokes 3 grand?"

"I don't know" the clerk huffily spat, "you'll have to talk to Western Union. Here's their complaints' number" (he probably said 'helpline' but "complaints' number" is considerably more apt)

"Not our national security" the western union human said after I had finally negotiated the synthetic receptionist/voicemail run around, "US national security"

"Hang on" I just about screamed feeling a 'turn' coming on "A kiwi sends a few bucks to Pakistan to give his youngest sister for her wedding, the money is meant to go directly to Islamabad, don't pass Go, or collect $200 or any of that stuff, yet somehow it is a matter of US National Security? Why? What the fuck is going on?" (yeah I know swearing never helps, no! bugger it it does, the swearer generally feels better)

Anyway after much backwards and forwards it transpires that someone/something in western union amerika had stopped the transfer, western union NZ had no idea why or where the money might be other than all queries were knocked back with a terse "National Security".

Like I sd, just a taste, do read the whole thing you wont be sorry, MBG (Money back guarantee).
posted by Unregistered User at 5:29 PM on June 26, 2006

I had commented that this sort of thing did not just happen recently, for which, see:

most of us are just learning about this because of the NY Times piece. But this has been in the public record and readily found previously
posted by Postroad at 5:36 PM on June 26, 2006

I can't believe this current round of press bashing from BushCheneyCo. It's so naked and transparent and I just wish it would piss off enough reporters and editors that they'd really go to town on the administration. Unfortunately I agree that they just don't care that much.
posted by OmieWise at 5:38 PM on June 26, 2006

OmieWise writes "I can't believe this current round of press bashing from BushCheneyCo."

As they found in the past two years you can't actually get all that much mileage out of gay marriage-, social security- or immigration-related scare-mongering. So the cabal goes on to the next target. The argument does get dirtier and more repugnant every time.
posted by clevershark at 6:00 PM on June 26, 2006

The L.A. Times ran that story too. Imagine only five or six people now control all media today.

Thirty years ago we would squawk "chilling effect" if government even talked of censorship. Now look at us.
posted by BillyElmore at 6:02 PM on June 26, 2006

amberglow, this has nothing to do with spying on domestic transactions.
posted by oaf at 6:04 PM on June 26, 2006

Thirty years ago we would squawk "chilling effect" if government even talked of censorship. Now look at us.

What bothered me most was hearing Rep. Curt Weldon (R. PA) nearly lose his marbles, yelling at the news anchor and the guest journalist from the New York Times on tonight's News Hour about how the article was an obscene, traitorous display, and that people should be arrested.

Neither of them put up much of a fight, sadly.

Our press really does need to examine its own declining watchdog role more often and more seriously. Hopefully this piece is a start.
posted by Mr. Six at 6:17 PM on June 26, 2006

interesting, from Brussels: Belgium's government is investigating the legality of counter-terrorism searches by U.S. officials of thousands of private records held by Brussels-based international bank cooperative SWIFT, a spokeswoman said.
U.S. media last week reported that the U.S. Treasury Department had since September 11, 2001 been tapping into records of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) for evidence of potential activity by terror groups.
Belgian Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx learned of the searches from the media and asked Belgium's national security services and counter-fraud office to produce reports into the matter before the end of the week, a ministry spokeswoman said.
"She wants to know if these actions taken by the U.S. and SWIFT are okay under Belgian law," ...

posted by amberglow at 6:29 PM on June 26, 2006

i sincerely, deeply hope that history is even more unkind to the american press than it is to the bush administration. gods, what a bunch of cowards and bootlickers.
posted by lord_wolf at 6:36 PM on June 26, 2006

Nifty links Mr.Six and Unregistered User.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:40 PM on June 26, 2006

What bothered me most was hearing Rep. Curt Weldon (R. PA) nearly lose his marbles, yelling at the news anchor and the guest journalist from the New York Times on tonight's News Hour about how the article was an obscene, traitorous display, and that people should be arrested.

I saw that too. I charitably decided it was good breeding that kept the journalists quiet.
posted by OmieWise at 7:08 PM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

He was wrong to publish that particular story. Unfortunately, the Administration already has two programs exposed, one of which appears highly-illegal. So it's incredibly hard to sensibly argue against the New York Times now, when they brought news of those earlier programs.

However, if the government has classified this and if it is legal, as it is by almost all accounts, and further it's an international operation, and The Times had this information before publishing like Keller stated, his arguments for exposing it at this time don't hold any weight with me.

It probably doesn't need to be classified, but it is right now. While the Administration is setting a dangerous precedent with its wiretapping program and the phone call database, I think the New York Times has just helped set up one that is almost as bad by going purely for a trifecta of glory on this. It's almost like they saw classified, Bush Administration and records and thought "We can do it again!" And the Administration is wholly complicit in that because this is a wolf crying boy.

Two of those stories were right, this last one is not. I don't even consider it a "whistleblower" case. I'm only slightly annoyed by it, but if something similar happens again, I might move up to rather annoyed.
posted by Captaintripps at 7:28 PM on June 26, 2006

Ooh, I haven't listened to tonight's NewsHour yet.
posted by oaf at 7:29 PM on June 26, 2006

How can the wide-scale search of our private banking records by banks on behalf of our government be legal?
posted by rougy at 7:35 PM on June 26, 2006

It's not the wide scale search of our government banking records.
posted by Captaintripps at 8:12 PM on June 26, 2006


Aww, come one rougy, if you got "nothing to hide"....yada yada.

"As so often happens, the rightwing are half right for the wrong reasons. They say primarily: if you have nothing to hide, done nothing wrong, you have no fear of being spied on. Exactly. But the logic goes both ways. Then the F.B.I files CIA dossiers, Whitehouse converstaions should be open to all. Let everything hang open. Let the Government be totally visible. The very last people to hide their actions should be the military, police, and state government.
posted by Unregistered User at 8:20 PM on June 26, 2006

The thing that gets me is the claim that this somehow reveals our secrets to the trrists. Does the administration honestly believe that trrists don't know they're being listened to and having their bank transactions watched? Is this honestly much of a revalation? Shit, I even assumed this stuff was going on when I was a little kid.
posted by afx114 at 8:22 PM on June 26, 2006

How can the wide-scale search of our private banking records by banks on behalf of our government be legal?

Because the people behind it write the laws?

I don't understand the fixation on whether the latest administration travesty is "legal." Why does this matter? In all seriousness, if you think the government should not be tapping phones/performing warrentless searches/doing mass datamining, what's legality got to do with it. I get the feeling that the left wing thinks that pointing out the "illegality" of these programs (I put the word in scare quotes because it seems that much of national security law comes down to interpreting contradictory case law over decades or longer, into which either side can read whatever it sees fit) will help sway conservatives — but I think this is pretty much wishful thinking.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:33 PM on June 26, 2006

According to this administration, there are good leaks and there are bad leaks.

I have a hard time mustering any sympathy for them when they selectively choose certain leaks to pounce upon.

(Honestly, the NYT is so played out--even liberals don't take it seriously any more. My half-ass prediction? Future misinformative "bad" leaks will come from KOS and The Nation. Hating on the NYT for being too liberal is so 1997.)
posted by bardic at 11:11 PM on June 26, 2006

Lest ye forget:

Lawsuit: CIA defines who's a news outlet
The CIA has adopted internal rules allowing it to define what constitutes a news organization and what doesn't, a Washington-based research group contended in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.
posted by Unregistered User at 1:52 AM on June 27, 2006

I wonder... has the CIA taken over the government? Ol' pappy Bush used to run the CIA, and now his snot-nosed kid is running the country. Coincidence?
posted by five fresh fish at 7:48 PM on June 27, 2006

I wonder... has the CIA taken over the government?

If so, some are rebelling.
posted by homunculus at 9:56 PM on June 27, 2006

Rebelling? He's ex-CIA. There has been a coup: the good guys are all gone.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:21 PM on June 27, 2006


This isn't a "law" like I can go to a book and read about the law I guess.

Or I can, like, ask my congressman why he voted that way?

This must be one of those "laws" that Bush pulled out of his clownish ass like monkeys from a tiny car.

And I'm not supposed to be worried about this, because I might - perhaps - disenfranchise some conservative brethren too busy vying for an opportunity to suck the clown’s....never mind.

Does any American with his head pulled out of his ass honestly think that this administration will use this information ONLY for fighting terrorism?

posted by rougy at 11:02 PM on June 27, 2006

Ron Suskind, author, on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews on Monday (June 26, 2006):
MATTHEWS: Well let‘s talk about this with Ron Suskind. I read your book [“The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America‘s Pursuit of Its Enemy Since 9/11”] all weekend, a hell of a book. And one of the things in it is this very question: how the United States agencies or intelligence agencies use financial, electronic transfers around the world, people moving money in the Arab world, especially, al Qaeda people. How we check up on what they‘re up to....“Eventually not surprisingly,” and we‘re talking about electronic transfer surveillance, “our opponents figured it out. It was a matter really of deduction. Enough people got caught and a view of which activities had in common provides clues as to how they may have been identified and apprehended. We were surprised it took so long,” said one intelligence official.

So in other words, the bad guys figured out how we were catching them.

SUSKIND: Right, it‘s a process of deduction. After a while, you catch enough of them, they‘re not idiots. They say, “Well, we can‘t do the things we were doing.” They‘re not leaving electronic trails like they were.

MATTHEWS: So what‘s Cheney beefing about here?

SUSKIND: The fact is—look, I‘m sure...

MATTHEWS: Or President Bush. That the bad guys found out about it before the “Times” did.

SUSKIND: I‘m sure the program is of some value, but I think the White House ought to be straight with people, that this has been a thing of diminishing return for several years now, this kind of electronic surveillance.

....SUSKIND: This thing with the “Times” with the government is a false debate. We need a real debate. The fact is, our enemy has adapted. We need to come up with new tools to get them. That‘s the real debate. It‘s not about who said what in this case. Of course al Qaeda knows we‘re tracking their finances, they‘re very, very good of late in the last few years about not leaving electronic trails. That‘s for a reason. We need to come up with new tools. Human intelligence is what works here, not so much this.
posted by ericb at 7:30 AM on June 28, 2006

'The basic questions: Do our government anti-terrorist programs actually do anything?'
The Financial Spying Program, how many people has it caught?

Who are they? Where are they? What has been done about them?

Did it catch anyone that could not have been caught another way?

What was the cost per catch?

Would that expenditure in time, effort and money, been better applied elsewhere?

Did it catch anyone that was part of 9/11?

Al Qaeda spent a lot of money on 9/11. They spent a lot of money elsewhere. How many of the Al Qaeda's backers has this program found? More than one? Why haven't they been arrested? Who are they? Where are they?

posted by amberglow at 8:58 AM on June 28, 2006

Froomkin: "But the existence of SWIFT itself has not exactly been a secret. Certainly not to anyone who had an Internet connection. SWIFT has a Web site, at"
posted by homunculus at 5:51 PM on June 28, 2006

This must be one of those "laws" that Bush pulled out of his clownish ass like monkeys from a tiny car.

The visualisation that flashed through my mind as I read that... ugh!
posted by five fresh fish at 8:19 PM on June 28, 2006

What bothered me most was hearing Rep. Curt Weldon (R. PA) nearly lose his marbles

He's totally lost them.
posted by homunculus at 10:13 PM on June 28, 2006

How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth!

That pic is brilliant.
posted by homunculus at 1:25 PM on June 29, 2006

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