NYT: All the News That’s Fit to Authoritatively Quash

There are a couple of funny things about NYT’s public editor Arthur Brisbane’s article approving the NYT’s decision to sit on news of Raymond Davis’ CIA affiliation. Check out whom he consults for guidelines on what the NYT should or shouldn’t publish.

Bob Woodward, who wrote about secret operations in Pakistan in his recent book “Obama’s Wars,” described for me the competing priorities in play in this situation. On one hand, he said, the Davis affair is just the “tip of the iceberg” of intensive secret warfare the United States is waging in the region. “I think the aggressive nature of the way all that is covered is good because you are only seeing part of the activity, ” said Mr. Woodward, who also is associate editor of The Washington Post.

“But you just don’t want to get someone killed,” he added. “I learned a long time ago, humanitarian considerations first, journalism second.” [my emphasis]

If you’re asking Woodward–the guy who withholds everything until he can package it into a semi-official narrative, the guy whose reporting is all officially sanctioned at this point–whether to withhold news or not, you might as well be asking State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley himself for guidelines.

They’re both government flacks, after all.

But what I find really amusing is the logic that went into NYT’s decision to withhold Davis’ affiliation. Brisbane reveals the content of Crowley’s call to Keller.

Mr. Davis was charged with murder after shooting two Pakistani men in Lahore on Jan. 27. The Times jumped on the story, but on Feb. 8, the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, contacted the executive editor, Bill Keller, with a request. “He was asking us not to speculate, or to recycle charges in the Pakistani press,” Mr. Keller said. “His concern was that the letters C-I-A in an article in the NYT, even as speculation, would be taken as authoritative and would be a red flag in Pakistan.”

In other words, Crowley called Keller and told him that if the NYT published what newspapers in Pakistan were already publishing, it would be regarded as “authoritative.”

Note, NYT’s crack public editor didn’t bother to explain who would regard it as authoritative. Nor did he explain how that would add to the considerable danger to Davis’ life. Crowley apparently just said someone might die, and the NYT decided not to report without, apparently, thinking through the logical problem with Crowley’s claim (though if they were so worried about people dying, maybe they shouldn’t have ginned up a war against Iraq?).

Now, I fully acknowledge that a great number of people here in the US have ignored the last decade of the NYT’s coverage and thus still regard it as “authoritative.”

But those people are here in the US.

Furthermore, an entire group of people who pose a threat to Davis–the people protesting–would only even see the NYT article if they happen to have InterToobz access and reasonably good English. (And it doesn’t matter anyway, given that they already fully believed Davis was CIA or Blackwater. Hell, many of them probably believe the NYT is CIA too.)

The other people who pose a threat to Davis–his jailers–already had all the confirmation they needed he was a spook in the equipment he had when they arrested him.

So basically, Crowley’s request represented a big handjob to the NYT’s inflated self of its own “authoritativeness,” and because the NYT found it credible or at least flattering that their alleged authoritativeness would endanger Davis in a way that all the reporting in Pakistan didn’t already, they withheld publication.

After that handjob, as Brisbane describes, they were helpless.

But The Times was stuck with trying to [tell the Davis story without revealing his affiliation].

It’s just a short step from that sense of self-enforced helplessness to the line Dean Baquet gives to describe the NYT reporting on this story (though it could describe all of their reporting):

we tried our best not to be misleading.

The Gray Lady. All the News that’s Fit to Quash. We try our best not to be misleading.

All of which is totally consistent with the following sentence, which I find astonishing even for the NYT:

I’d call this a no-win situation, one that reflects the limits of responsible journalism in the theater of secret war.

BREAKING NEWS! We have a secret war in Pakistan! One not declared by Congress. And the NYT mentions it, as if that–the secret war we’re waging with contractors to avoid all the laws prohibiting secret undeclared wars–is just something a newspaper has to accept.

A secret war is not just irresponsible. It is illegal.

But rather than actually report that, that the US is engaged in an illegal war, the NYT prefers to self-censor its “authoritative” coverage all in the interest of finding a “responsible” way to be journalists faced with evidence of a secret war.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    If the NYT had already been investigating the Davis story for more than a week, it’s hard to imagine a less persuasive argument than the one the Times proffers as the argument made by Crowley, which it claims is what justified its abusing its readers by printing misinformation it knew to be false. That dog won’t hunt; it’s lazier and has less of a nose than the one Bill Keller set loose in his critique of Julian Assange.

    By the second week of February, the Pakistani public already believed the shooting was wantonly criminal. The Pakistani government, at least parts of it that considered its interests adverse to the way the US interpreted its relationship with Pakistan, was already convinced “Davis” was a spy. Presumably, that’s one reason the two ISI agents were tailing him in the first place, and the reason why something in his behavior elicited a firefight in which Davis killed them.

    Oh, was it only when the foreign European press asserted a confirmed relationship between Davis and the CIA – that is, when commercial rivals threatened to scoop the Times – that persuaded Bill Keller to rescind his vow of obedience chastity silence to the national security state?

    It’s not the lone apple, Mr. Keller, let alone the lone blogger, that’s rotten in the journalism barrel. It’s nearly the whole barrel, and it starts with the prize specimens on top.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        The Guardian has more experience in confronting the bullies of the Murdoch press. It’s funny how being willing to print the truth is like telling a bully “No”. I think Keller’s scared shitless the WSJ and Fox will gang up on him and he’ll be caught between them and his paper’s owners, who share very conservative politics. I wonder if similar concerns have him kowtowing so supinely to the national security state.

        It also helps that Murdoch’s major British tabloid, News of the World, is now caught up in a growing scandal about how many Communists celebrities’ and politicians’ phones and e-mails it had illegally hacked into. That scandal may also bring down one or more figures in the vaunted Metropolitan Police, which is widely viewed as having badly bungled the original investigation and has now been forced to reopen it, a process independent investigators may now take over.

        • marksb says:

          It’s funny how being willing to print the truth is like telling a bully “No”.

          Pulitzer for you, earl, for that line!

      • eCAHNomics says:

        Oh, I think the NYT is worried about nothing. It has become such a USG whore (apologizes to honest whores) that it no longer has touch with reality that Guardian might have.

    • papau says:

      It is likely only one of the governments of Pakistan knew and had approved of Davis – most likely the military knew, the civilian gov did not, and ISI decided to kill him as a favor to the Taliban.

      Just why we gave the atom bomb to these folks? (yes, I know about Ike being told of the need to offset India, but $20 billion via Olmstead in the 50’s and billions more since then , all that tech, into a world where we knew ISI was out of control from day one – the CIA’s success in killing the premier of the Congo and tossing the gov of Iran must have gone to its head – and God only knows where the CIA WAS NOT CONNECTED TO JFK DEATH).

      Never has such a failure been able to command such Congressional loyalty – or at least not since Lockheed sold us 10,000 planes in WW2 that we could not use in European combat.

  2. fatster says:

    O/T Another war?

    US neo-cons urge Libya intervention

    Signatories to the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) demand “immediate” military action.

    LINK.

    • jimhicks3 says:

      And reply to earlofhuntingdon
      AJ is becoming THE source over NYT, WP, and GUARDIAN et al.
      After EW in the morning (& throughout the day) its right to AJ English.
      jh

  3. Mary says:

    Yeah – Woodward and NYT have shown themselves to be such “humanitarians” as they softly and caressingly guided the nation into the acceptance of America’s role as a state sponsor of torture at home and abroad and as they humanatarian-ly watched body bag after body bad come home from their war; watched refugee orphan after refugee orphan flood the Jordanian and Syrian and Iranian borders; and oversaw a national economic collapse that would always find the time and money for their war.

    Once you’ve ginned up the wars, the “humanitarian” thing to do is protect the Executive branch assassins and kill squads – the men and women who leave the dead and dismembered strewn around Pakistan like so much litter.

    Seriously – they really ought to have a piece of that Nobel Obama got – – they are equally entitled. And Lord knows, when it comes to entitlements, NYT is an experty.

  4. Mary says:

    I’m guessing there still no reporting from NYT or anyone else into whether or not the Pak press allegations of a prior run in, between Lahore authorities and Davis as a part of unit of men illegally armed with “sophisticated weapons” took place and the details.

    Never mind, I realize in Woodward and NYT’s equation, the “human” in humanitarian excludes the populations of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, etc.

  5. donbacon says:

    The US print media is a dead duck, which is why I read FDL (and other blogs) and don’t subscribe to a newspaper (or have a teevee). They are only in business to sell merchandise and not report the news.
    So what we need in the blogosphere is an organization with reliable sources overseas (and domestically, for that matter) who can feed us the truth. The foreign press is pretty good. For example:

    Pakistan Times
    ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Monday reiterated government’s firm resolve of not making any compromise upon country’s sovereignty and dignity in Raymond Davis case.

    LAHORE: Additional District and Sessions Judge Mohammad Yousuf Aujla Friday adjourned the hearing of murder trial against Raymond Davis till March 3. The court, under Section 265c of CrPC, provided copies of the challan to the double murder accused Raymond Davis in Urdu and English. The trial was conducted in Kot Lakhpat Jail.

    Pak Tribune
    LAHORE: Some unidentified outlaws have fed poisonous bills to the paternal uncle of Shumaila, the widow of Faheem, who was crushed to death in Lahore in Raymond Davis double murder case, our sources reported early Thursday.

    LAHORE: A police team probing the Raymond Davis case visited the US Consulate, Lahore, on Tuesday to recover the vehicle and the driver used in the killing of Ebadur Rehman for expediting the investigation, but the visit proved futile as officials of the Consulate declined to meet or provide any info

  6. orionATL says:

    the asymmetric nature of the state&nyt cohabitation regarding davis’ life and safety

    is as grotesquely “ugly american” as it is possible to be

    considering

    davis had just killed two pakistanni’s, likely murdering at least the one he chased down and finished off.

    it is THAT that endangers davis’ life, far more than any cia connection.

    headline: foreigner from nation that kills pakistanis shoots and kills to pakistanis.

    davis could have been a shriner and the headline would still enrage.

    second point:

    i cannot imagine the nyt is not having its co-operation extorted from it by the doj/whitehouse viz-a-viz the risen-sterling case.

    the james risen nytimes involvement in the gwot vs the judy miller involvement in the gwot is

    another moral grotesquery,

    and yet another indication of just how amoral the obama presidency has become.

  7. donbacon says:

    news report:

    LONDON: [Pakistan’s] Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has asked its American counterpart Central Intelligence Agency CIA) to unmask all its covert operatives in Pakistan after arrest of Aaron DeHaven in Peshawar, a British paper said in its report. Pakistani authorities arrested US national Aaron DeHaven in Peshawar on Friday, over visa expiry. Peshawar police arrested DeHaven, saying that his visa had expired. DeHaven runs a company named Catalyst Services which provides security to foreigners and its office is in Islamabad.

    http://dailytimespakistan.com/isi-asks-cia-to-unmask-covert-opeatives-in-pak/

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      ISI is escalating the cost of brinksmanship. No service would do that, and ISI doesn’t expect the CIA will either. It seems to be a way for ISI to say it wants a seat at the conference table concerning ops taking place on its soil. Would MI-5 or the FBI take a different tack, even without two of their agents being gunned down in broad daylight in Manhattan or Kansas City?

      • donbacon says:

        No, I think it goes further than that. The ISI believes that the US is endangering Pakistan security by siding with India, Pakistan’s arch-enemy which is seven times larger and more powerful, and why was ‘Davis’ talking to the TTP?

  8. 4jkb4ia says:

    This is a gloss on Mary’s comment more than it is a reply to it, because Mary may very well have had it in mind.

    Here is a humanitarian story about Somalia from this year, about Dr. Hawa Abdi. The NYT also made very clear how horrifying the humanitarian situation was with respect to the floods in Pakistan. When Christians were targeted in Iraq, the NYT gave that very sympathetic coverage and even said that Christians had fled the country.

    And when it is Russia, or China, or the Ivory Coast, or Congo, the NYT is very firm about human rights/humanitarian issues. (On I/P that’s in the eye of the beholder.) It appears that the NYT is juggling two roles–if it functions as a member of the Western press it has a responsibility to cover things so people in other countries cannot point to its silence. If it functions as representing American security interests then things are very different.

    As far as Bob Woodward “overseeing” the economic crisis, the only thing I am aware of that he did in the area of economic policy was write a mash note to Alan Greenspan, which I actually still own, which skimmed over Greenspan’s regulatory responsibilities. That is second-order oversight–failing to oversee the overseers.

    It should be clear that this is NOT a NYT apologist comment for once.

    /if working assumption that I have scared John Cole out of his wits makes the taavah go away, I will take it at this point

  9. donbacon says:

    from the Guardian (extract):

    DeHaven runs a company named Catalyst Services which, according to its website, is staffed by retired military and defence department personnel who have “played some role in major world events” including the collapse of the Soviet Union, the military mission to Somalia and the “global war on terror”. Services offered include “full-service secure residences”, protective surveillance and armed security.

    One prospective customer who met DeHaven last year described him as a small, slightly-built man, who wore glasses and had broad knowledge of Pakistani politics. DeHaven said he had lived in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for one year, had married a Pakistani woman along the border with Afghanistan, and spoke Pashto fluently.

    He said he moved his base from Peshawar to Islamabad last year over suspicions that he worked for Blackwater, the controversial US military contracting firm.

    His business partner is listed on company documents as Hunter Obrikat with an address in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Guardian was unable to contact either men at listed numbers in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the US and Dubai.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/25/pakistan-arrests-security-contractor-cia

    from the Catalyst website:

    Catalyst Services: Your in-country solution for Middle East and South Asian Operations.

    http://catalystservicesllc.com/middle_east/afghanistan_pakistan/construction_security_logistics/aboutus/

  10. donbacon says:

    from Pakistan Patriot:

    Omar Waraich has written a prolific story in Time Magazine. The story is exactly that, a work of fiction. But then again, what can we expect from the US apologist Waraich. On alomst every occaions his articles carry a Western bias. Mr. Warachi has ignored “Davis’” links with the terrorist group TTP, and his many trip to FATA and the tribal areas. If Mr. “Davis’ was keeping an eye on the so called LeT, then why was Mr. Davis taking pictures of sensitive Pakistani installations. Why was he making videos of Pakistani schools, mosques and hospitals–areas which are bombed by the TTP.

    The New York Times just admitting to lying about the “Davis Affair”. Many American and international papers repeated the New York Times denials that “Davis” had any links with the CIA. . .

    Leon Panetta has called General Pasha and tried to hammer out a deal with the ISI. The “face-saving deal” for the Americans would involve the US backing down on the “immunity” and referring the case to the International Court of Justice, where the case would lie in cold storage for a few months. In the meantime “Davis” would be tried and convicted.

    http://www.pakistanpatriot.com/?p=34355

  11. donbacon says:

    from Pakistan Patriot (extract):
    ‘Davis’: Why would the US give this sort of scumbag ‘diplomatic immunity’
    Posted on 26 February 2011

    Who can blow smoke up Pakistani noses? How stupid does the US think the Pakistanis are? “Davis” was a “former” member of the US Army Special Forces and had been employed by XE Services. Many think that he still works for the DOD and the CIA, and Hyperion and Xe are just fronts. He was living with other mercenaries at a safe house in Lahore since 2009. Most analysts believe that based on the phone numbers retrieved from his cell phone, he was up to no good. Some senior Pakistani intelligence officers were unwilling to have Mr. Davis released under almost any circumstances.

    How could the Americans think of asking for immunity for this scumbag murderer? At first the US increased the decibel level but when that didn’t work, they are now trying a different tact. Unnamed officials in Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed what Foreign Minister Mahmood Qureshi has publicly announced–”Davis” does not have blanket immunity.

    http://www.pakistanpatriot.com/?p=34333

  12. canadianbeaver says:

    Wait a minute. They still print a newspaper called the New York Times? Wow. How amazing are technological advancements! Wonder if they write their articles on Radio Shack TRS-80s!?!?

  13. donbacon says:

    Pakistan: Defiant video by terrorist Hakeemullah threatens US collaborators
    February 25, 2011
    by Roderick Samson

    Former Pakistani intelligence official Sultan Ameer Tarar, commonly known as Col Imam along with another former ISI official Squadron Leader (retd) Khawaja Khalid and British journalist Asad Qureshi, was seized by the Taliban while travelling in the North Waziristan tribal region on March 26, 2010. . .

    . . .the Taliban released a video showing the execution of former ISI official Sultan Amir Tarar, commonly known as ‘Colonel Imam’.

    Clips from the undated video aired by Pakistani television channels show Hakeemullah, flanked by two armed men, standing behind Col Imam as he sat on the ground.

    “Col. Imam is no more in this world,” TTP spokesperson Ahsanullah Ahsan, said in a message in the video, which apparently shows his execution.

    In the video, Hakeemullah said that all those collaborating with the Americans against Muslims would be killed. He said that the Taliban would continue their ‘jihad’ to defeat the Americans and their allies in Afghanistan.

    http://www.energypublisher.com/article.asp?id=49280

  14. Mary says:

    @7 -that’s at least some good news. But remember how Ailes was courting Hillary a bit in the last election – I think he’s so safe he could be made into children’s pjs – he’s not going to get burned.

    @11 – You know, I had seen that but still think this part, “He said he moved his base from Peshawar to Islamabad last year over suspicions that he worked for Blackwater, the controversial US military contracting firm” doesn’t make sense. Is that the same as saying he was kicked out of Peshawar? Was he a part of the group who got into trouble in Lahore in Dec of 2009? I just wonder – not much has been said about that incident, – maybe NYT Is worried it wouldn’t be humanitarian?

    @17 – he could have been in touch with some members of TTP who were acting as informants for the US. We get our drone info supposedly from real reliable “inside” sourcing CIA may want to have contractors handle those contacts so they don’t have to be reported to the intel committees an so they can stay deliberately vague about the “sourcing” of their info to bomb homes and families.

  15. EternalVigilance says:

    This has always been the nature and role of the NYT.

    “All The News That’s Fit To Print,” if one looks at it honestly, is the admission that every single thing the NYT has ever printed has been judged and filtered by the biases and needs of the owners. It’s the bald statement that the owners consider themselves the final arbiters for the public of what is “news,” and of that what subset is “fit to print.”

    The only surprise in this story should be that anyone ever expected anything else.

    • EternalVigilance says:
      the secret war we’re waging with contractors

      Isn’t the more accurate term “mercenaries?”

      That’s exactly why it’s never allowed.

  16. acoltharp says:

    The reason I support Wikileaks and all other whistleblowers is that all of the secrets are kept only from the poor bastards (vous et moi) whose
    money pays for this shit.

  17. waynec says:

    earlofhuntingdon @15
    In response to donbacon @ 9 (show text)

    ISI is escalating the cost of brinksmanship. No service would do that, and ISI doesn’t expect the CIA will either. It seems to be a way for ISI to say it wants a seat at the conference table concerning ops taking place on its soil. Would MI-5 or the FBI take a different tack, even without two of their agents being gunned down in broad daylight in Manhattan or Kansas City?

    Are you thinking that the ISI doesn’t have a seat at the table now?

  18. knowbuddhau says:

    A “handjob”?! State and NYT again collude in PSYOP attacking US, with weaponized lies of mythic (as opposed to scientific, economic, or polisci-fi) proportions, and instead of calling it that, you go with handjob? WTF?

    What’s with the penis obsession? What’s with reducing the titanic roles of State and NYT to a seventh-grader’s innuendo-laden metaphor?

    We beggar our urgent effort by reducing events of mythic importance, of dramaturgical potential (similar to metallurgical: the power of this shared narrative we’re here creating together, to materialise our intentions), to freakin’ handjobs, cojonometrics of all sort, when the proper level of analysis is mythic.

    Here’s a concrete example from recent days. Compare two speeches: Asmaa Mahfouz’s proto-revolutionary video vs Secretary Clinton’s Internet Freedom event. AM is passionate, speaking from the heart, in human and mythic-level terms; on Obama’s orders, Sec. Clinton drones on while the killings escalate. Exactly as Saif Gadhafi did, Hillary Clinton drones on while the killings escalated.

    How many people did we kill just during HRC’s abominable efforts to give diplomatic cover to human sacrifice?

    http://www.democracynow.org/2011/2/8/asmaa_mahfouz_the_youtube_video_that

    Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices & Challenges in a Networked World
    http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/02/156619.htm

    Afghans say joint NATO forces kill 64 civilians
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/20/us-afghanistan-civilians-idUSTRE71J0JV20110220

    “President (Hamid) Karzai strongly condemned the air strikes by foreign troops,” the statement said.

    Civilian casualties in NATO-led military operations, often caused by air strikes and night raids, have long been a source of friction between the Afghan government and its Western backers.

    Rules governing air strikes and night raids have been tightened significantly by NATO-led forces in the past two years, leading to a drop in civilian casualties.

    Mistakes still occur, although U.N. and other figures show that insurgents cause at least three-quarters of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

    The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement a team would investigate the allegations of civilian casualties during the operations in Kunar, which it said were carried out in a remote and rugged area.

    It said ISAF reporting and weapons system video showed 36 armed insurgents were killed.

    “We take allegations of civilian casualties very seriously. We are conducting an immediate assessment of these allegations and will report our findings,” U.S. Army Colonel Patrick Hynes, a senior ISAF spokesman said in the statement.

    Governor Wahidi said of the 64 dead, 20 were women, 29 were children or young adults, and the other 15 were adult men.

    Taking your cue, did Sec. Clinton gives us all a “handjob” in that speech? Even saying she “paid our rights lip service” has a nasty ring to it. Can we bring our game up a level or two?

    Mistakes will occur….” Translation: human sacrifice is built into our way of being in the world itself. Human sacrifice – not the noble self-sacrifice kind, sacrifice of the other kind – is what we do. Human flesh and blood are the main ingredients of the Shock Doctrine recipe. Not handjobs.

    It was a PSYOP. We, the People, in Congress assembled, have been attacked by weapons-grade PR (by Lt. Gen. Caldwell, US Army), NYT has been psyopping us for NO1 knows how long, and you reduce it to a freakin’ handjob. We’re under PSYOP attack right freakin’ now.

    “We’re all [attacked nation] now,” has a whole new ring to it. Hear it?

    But that’s not “news” because PSYOP weapons aren’t considered “real” weapons. Oh aren’t they? You’ll have to ask Bradley Manning about that.

    Is it any wonder we’re so far gone?

  19. jaango says:

    I come at my politics from the standpoint of the Native American/Chicano Construct and therefore, on foreign policy, I tend to being somewhat of a contrarian or a cynic.

    And as such, I pose the Question, “Is President Obama subject to Impeachment since our government is providing ‘aid and comfort’ to our pre-supposed enemies in a geographical area of the world in which Congress has not formaIly rendered a Declaration of War?” And from therein, the “role” that Davis has performed relative to his Responsibilities and Duties as our government employee, should be the Yardstick of Measurement for Congress’ to assess or determine given its historic non-effort for “oversight”.

    Jaango

  20. timbo says:

    Thank you for this analysis. The NYTs is dead to me and has been for years. The people who run it should be removed and permanently banned from the profession of journalism. They have no sense of what is right and wrong, except where their ego is stroked. “Yes, a little over to the left…yes…yes! Thank you. Of course we won’t print that…even though it is the truth…thanks again, please come back when I need my ego scratched!”