In a really worthy read, Bill Keller and Glenn Greenwald debate the future of journalism.
Sadly, however, in his first response to Keller’s self-delusion of belonging to the journalistic tradition of “newspapers that put a premium on aggressive but impartial reporting that expect reporters and editors to keep their opinions to themselves,” Greenwald seemed to cede that such journalism constitutes, “concealing one’s subjective perspectives.” That permitted Keller to continue his self-delusion that his journalism — at both the level of reporter and that reporter’s larger institution — achieved that silence about opinions until they started fighting about the role of national allegiance and national security.
That argument developed this way.
Greenwald: Former Bush D.O.J. lawyer Jack Goldsmith in 2011 praised what he called “the patriotism of the American press,” meaning their allegiance to protecting the interests and policies of the U.S. government. That may (or may not) be a noble thing to do, but it most definitely is not objective: it is quite subjective and classically “activist.”
Keller: If Jack Goldsmith, the former Bush administration lawyer, had praised the American press for, in your words, “their allegiance to protecting the interests and policies of the U.S. government” then I would strongly disagree with him. We have published many stories that challenged the policies and professed interests of the government. But that’s not quite what Goldsmith says. He says that The Times and other major news outlets give serious consideration to arguments that publishing something will endanger national security — that is, might get someone killed.
For what it’s worth, I think Keller is clinging to the first thing Goldsmith said,
Glenn Greenwald complained that “the NYT knew about Davis’ work for the CIA (and Blackwater) but concealed it because the U.S. Government told it to” (my emphasis). That is inaccurate. The government asked the Times not to publish, as it often does, and the Times agreed to the request, which it sometimes does. The final decision rested with the Times, which listens to the government’s claims about national security harm and risk to individual lives, and then makes its own decision. The Timesdoes not, in my opinion, always exercise this discretion wisely.
And ignoring what Goldsmith went on to say,
I interviewed a dozen or so senior American national security journalists to get a sense of when and why they do or don’t publish national security secrets. They gave me different answers, but they all agreed that they tried to avoid publishing information that harms U.S. national security with no corresponding public benefit. Some of them expressly ascribed this attitude to “patriotism” or “jingoism” or to being American citizens or working for American publications. This sense of attachment to country is what leads the American press to worry about the implications for U.S. national security of publication, to seek the government’s input, to weigh these implications in the balance, and sometimes to self-censor. (This is a natural and prudent attitude in a nation with the fewest legal restrictions in the world on the publication of national security secrets, but one abhorred by critics like Greewald.) The Guardian, al Jazeera, and Wikileaks, by contrast, worry much less, if at all, about U.S. national security interests.
That is, Goldsmith noted both that at an institutional level US news outlets entertained the requests of the government, and that at a reportorial level, individuals prioritized US “national security.”
And from there, Keller repeatedly ignored or dismissed the efforts Greenwald, in his Edward Snowden reporting, or WikiLeaks, in its Cablegate publications, made to protect lives of individuals.
It’s not until Greenwald’s response where he gets to the crux of the issue.
As for taking into account dangers posed to innocent life before publishing: nobody disputes that journalists should do this. But I don’t give added weight to the lives of innocent Americans as compared to the lives of innocent non-Americans, nor would I feel any special fealty to the U.S. government as opposed to other governments when deciding what to publish. Continue reading
Late Sunday, former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller put up an op-ed column at the NYT website on the state of Bradley Manning’s case, his perception of Manning’s motivations and what may have been different had Manning actually gotten his treasure trove of classified information to the Times instead of WikiLeaks. The column is well worth a read, irrespective of your ideological starting point on Mr. Manning.
Bradley Manning has ardent supporters and, predictably, they came out firing at Keller. Greg Mitchell immediately penned a blog post castigating Keller for not sufficiently understanding and/or analyzing the Manning/Lamo chat logs. Kevin Gosztola at Firedoglake also had sharp words for Keller, although, to be fair, Kevin did acknowledge this much:
It is an interesting exercise for Keller. Most of what he said is rational and, knowing Keller’s history, he could have been more venerating in his description of how the Times would have handled Manning.
Frankly, many of the points Mitchell and Gosztola made, which were pretty much representative of a lot of the chatter about Keller’s op-ed on Twitter, were fair criticism even if strident. And part of it seems to simply boil down to a difference in perspective and view with Keller, as evidenced in Keller’s response to inquiry by Nathan Fuller, where he indicates he simply views some things differently.
This is all healthy give and take, difference in view and sober discussion by the referenced Continue reading
James Risen has another article on the evolution of intelligence analysis, this time describing how screwing up the Iraq intelligence so badly now weighs on Iran analysts (for the better, IMO).
I was struck by the description of one way the intelligence community has improved its analysis.
The intelligence community also now requires that analysts be told much more about the sources of the information they receive from the United States’ human and technological spies. Analysts were left in the dark on such basic issues in the past, which helps explain why bogus information from fabricators was included in some prewar intelligence reports on Iraq. And, when they write their reports, they must include better attribution and sourcing for each major assertion.
While I’m skeptical the IC has improved sufficiently on this front (I suspect, for example, that attribution problems are one reason the IC was looking for an AQAP attack in 2009 in Yemen and not on a plane bound for Detroit), I am heartened that at least the IC is trying to give analysts more information on where information comes from and what biases might come with that information. At the very least, it should help avoid the stovepiping of information from people like Curveball.
But reading that passage got me wondering whether the press has gotten any better on this front. This article was published in the NYT, a newspaper that rather famously promised to clean up its anonymous sourcing after the Judy Miller fiasco, but which routinely fails to meet its own guidelines.
Don’t get me wrong–Risen himself meets these guidelines in the story, explaining why around 3 anonymous sources had to remain anonymous.
one former senior intelligence official, who like several others quoted in this article would speak only on the condition of anonymity about internal agency matters
He also includes on-the-record quotes from sources that appear identical to the named anonymous sources he quotes from; leaving little doubt as to who and where his story came from.
one former official who worked with the [CIA] analyst [who had a breakdown after the Iraq intelligence debacle]
Greg Thielmann, a former State Department intelligence analyst who resigned to protest what he considered the Bush administration’s politicization of the prewar Iraq intelligence
Paul Pillar, a former senior C.I.A. analyst on the Middle East
according to the former officials [who worked on the 2007 Iran NIE]
one official [who worked on the 2007 NIE] recalled
Thomas Fingar, who was chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the time of the 2007 assessment on Iran
He even describes John Bolton in such a way as to downplay Bolton’s own role in intelligence as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, presumably making it clear (as if there were any doubt) that Bolton was not among his sources describing the problems with intelligence under Bush.
John R. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former ambassador to the United Nations in the Bush administration
So this is not a commentary on Risen. Continue reading
Bill Keller has another narcissistic column attacking Julian Assange. The whole thing is rubbish not worth your time, but I did want to unpack the complaint with which Keller ends his column.
“A lot of attention has been focused on WikiLeaks and its colorful proprietors,” Aftergood told me. “But the real action, it turns out, is not at the publisher level; it’s at the source level. And there aren’t a lot of sources as prolific or as reckless as Bradley Manning allegedly was.”
For good reason. The Obama administration has been much more aggressive than its predecessors in pursuing and punishing leakers. The latest case, the arrest last month of John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. terrorist-hunter accused of telling journalists the names of colleagues who participated in the waterboarding of Qaeda suspects, is symptomatic of the crackdown. It is this administration’s sixth criminal case against an official for confiding to the media, more than all previous presidents combined. The message is chilling for those entrusted with keeping legitimate secrets and for whistleblowers or officials who want the public to understand how our national security is or is not protected.
Here’s the paradox the documentaries have overlooked so far: The most palpable legacy of the WikiLeaks campaign for transparency is that the U.S. government is more secretive than ever. [my emphasis]
The Obama Administration has charged 6 people with some kind of espionage charge for leaking:
All the non-WikiLeaks leaks allegedly took place before Manning’s. All were formally charged before Manning, and all but two men were arrested before Manning.
And yet Bill Keller, in a demonstration of his typical reporting skill though not Newtonian physics, suggests that WikiLeaks caused the crackdown on leaks.
The NYT had a hysterical editorial calling out the GOP candidates for claiming that waterboarding is not torture.
As hard as it is to believe, the Republican candidates for president seem to have learned very little from the moral calamities of the administration of George W. Bush. Three of the contenders for the party’s nomination have now come out in favor of the torture known as waterboarding. Only two have said it is illegal, and the rest don’t seem to have the backbone to even voice an opinion on the subject.
At Saturday night’s debate in South Carolina, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann said they would approve waterboarding of prisoners to extract information. They denied, of course, that waterboarding is torture, even though it’s been classified as such since the Spanish Inquisition. “Very disappointed by statements at S.C. GOP debate supporting waterboarding,” Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, wrote on Twitter. “Waterboarding is torture.”
As empty as Mr. Romney’s remarks were about Iran, his refusal to renounce waterboarding is disturbing. There are few issues that more clearly define a candidate’s national security policy in the 21st century than a position on torture. A few candidates will fight terrorism using the rule of law, honoring the nation’s moral standards to encourage other countries to do the same. Others will defend the United States by promising to extract information from captives using pain and simulating death, degrading the nation’s reputation. That group now includes Mr. Cain, Mrs. Bachmann and Mr. Romney. [my emphasis]
Oh, I agree with the sentiment. On this issue (aside from Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul) the GOPers are a bunch of immoral thugs.
But I’m rather amused that the editorial page of the NYT–the NYT!!!–is attacking others for refusing to call waterboarding torture.
As Glenn Greenwald noted, here’s what two of the then-editors have had to say about whether waterboarding is torture or not.
[D]efenders of the practice of water-boarding, including senior officials of the Bush administration, insisted that it did not constitute torture.
I have resisted using torture without qualification or to describe all the techniques. Exactly what constitutes torture continues to be a matter of debate and hasn’t been resolved by a court. This president and this attorney general say waterboarding is torture, but the previous president and attorney general said it is not. On what basis should a newspaper render its own verdict, short of charges being filed or a legal judgment rendered?
And here’s what the NYT’s spokesperson said in response to a study showing that they had changed their language on waterboarding once the US embraced using it.
“As the debate over interrogation of terror suspects grew post-9/11, defenders of the practice (including senior officials of the Bush administration) insisted that it did not constitute torture,” a Times spokesman said in a statement. Continue reading
As you read Bill Keller’s latest exercise in public masturbation, keep in mind how the NYT long refused to correct its credulous and ultimately, factually false, reporting on James O’Keefe III’s ACORN videos (Update: here’s BradBlog’s coverage of their belated admission they were wrong).
Now consider how Keller equates O’Keefe’s serial fabrications with Julian Assange’s leaks–leaks the NYT has heavily relied upon in its own reporting.
Has anyone actually seen James O’Keefe and Julian Assange together? Are we quite sure that the right-wing prankster who brought down the leadership of National Public Radio and the anarchic leaker aren’t split personalities of the same guy — sent by fate to mess with the heads of mainstream journalists?
Sure, one shoots from the left, the other from the right. One deals in genuine (albeit purloined) secrets; the other in “Candid Camera” stunts, most recently posing as a potential donor and entrapping a foolish NPR executive into disclosing his scorn for Republicans and the Tea Party.
Aside from equating video fabrications with documents the accuracy of which the NYT has confirmed itself, Bill Keller repeats the NYT’s earlier habit of repeating O’Keefe’s lies unquestioningly. [Update, 3/28 AM: The NYT has corrected part of Keller's description of what really happened with O'Keefe's latest; let's see how long it takes them to correct Keller's portrayal of Schiller's intent.]
Here’s a better description of what O’Keefe’s fabrications exposed NPR Executive Ron Schiller to have said and done, from the digital forensic consultant NPR employed to review the full video.
Take the political remarks. Ron Schiller speaks of growing up as a Republican and admiring the party’s fiscal conservatism. He says Republican politicians and evangelicals are becoming “fanatically” involved in people’s lives.
But in the shorter tape, Schiller is also presented as saying the GOP has been “hijacked” by Tea Partyers and xenophobes.
In the longer tape, it’s evident Schiller is not giving his own views but instead quoting two influential Republicans — one an ambassador, another a senior Republican donor. Schiller notably does not take issue with their conclusions — but they are not his own.
I assume the Keller and the NYT will ignore this analysis, as they did the analysis ACORN had done, and cling to their unquestioning acceptance of O’Keefe’s propaganda about what Schiller said and did.
Now, Keller spends the remainder of his exercise in public masturbation arguing that unlike these two, the NYT has standards, and values “being right” (oh, except for the little Iraq fiasco) and impartial.
Except that in his first two paragraphs, Keller makes it clear that he doesn’t much care about being right–or has forgotten how to do even the most basic work that requires. He’s just going to spout what he wants to as long as it makes him feel important.
So I guess the better question is, has anyone actually seen James O’Keefe III and Bill Keller in the same place at the same time?
As a follow up to yesterday afternoon’s decision in the WikiLeaks grand jury subpoena case, it is, shall we say, interesting that the New York Times today comes out with and editorial slamming democracies that use secret evidence and maneuvers to prosecute journalists.
The editorial is titled No Way to Run a Democracy and it doesn’t spend one word of it on the rabid use of just those tactics in relation to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange (See here and here). Nor has there been any comparable outrage over the US actions against WikiLeaks journalists in any other NYT effort and/or article.
Now, make no mistake, the plight of investigative journalists in Turkey under threat from the administration of Prime Minister Erdogan is extremely troubling, and it is commendable that the Gray Lady has called it out. But it does make you wonder where the same outrage is in relation to the First Amendment eviscerating effort of the US Department of Justice toward WikiLeaks and Assange. An investigation which could, and if it is taken to its logical conclusion, should involve the Times itself.
Maybe it is because Bill Keller reached some agreement with the DOJ not to trash them in return for DOJ laying off the NYT during one of his endless tete a tetes with them over quashing news reporting, maybe Keller and the Times are fearful that they don’t have some kind of secret agreement with the DOJ, maybe it is the product of the merging of the media and government in the US, or maybe it is because of Keller’s irrational and unprofessional extreme dislike of, and contempt for, the “dirty” Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
Whatever the reason, the stridence against the Erdogan government actions contrasted with the silence toward the domestic Obama government actions is telling.
Back when WikiLeaks leaked the Collateral Murder video, I was agnostic about the value of the leak. Surely, exposing the cover-up of the killing of the Reuters journalists was important. But I thought the response focused too much on the soldiers who had been trained to respond the way they had, and too little on the architects of the policies that put them in that dehumanizing position.
I personally didn’t delve much into the Afghan cable dump, so I never really assessed its value. And with the sole exception of the Iran hiker cable–which the NYT left dangerously unredacted to make one of its pet points–I found the Iraq cables to be redacted beyond the point of usefulness.
And so it was that in the early days after the State cable release when Joe Lieberman was intervening to try to prevent publication of WikiLeaks, Joe Biden was calling Julian Assange a high tech terrorist, and Sarah Palin was advocating hunting down WikiLeaks like al Qaeda, I was somewhat agnostic on the value of the massive leaks WikiLeaks released. When Floyd Abrams was trying to distinguish “good” leaker Daniel Ellsberg from “bad” alleged leaker Bradley Manning, I knew there had been revelations important to my issues, but I wasn’t sure how Manning’s alleged leak would measure up across time.
That seems like a long, long time ago.
And while we don’t yet know how the State Department cable leaks will weather history, the importance of the leak now seems beyond question. Consider the way the NYT–the Administration’s mole in the press corps–continues to rely on the cable leaks even while it disdains Julian Assange as a bag lady. Indeed, on some stories the NYT is getting scooped on by their former reporters, they use cables as a crutch to catch up.
The NYT is not alone; it seems news outlets around the world have grown accustomed–and downright happy–that these sources are all out there to help them do their jobs.
And consider the range of stories we’ve seen. We’ve seen American pressure on allies to put counterterrorism policies–both data collection and torture–ahead of democracy. We’ve seen how our troops in Iraq knowingly turned over Iraqis to be tortured. We’ve seen our allies in the Middle East promising to cause democratic elections not to take place. And while I definitely don’t think WikiLeaks “caused” the Middle Eastern uprising, they did make it hard for Western elites to defend their former client dictators once the uprisings started.
Over time, I think one of the most damning lessons from the State cables will be evidence of the tolerance for bribery and looting that rots our foreign policy. Thus far, we’ve seen details of our allies’ oil bribery, our disinterest in doing anything about Hosni Mubarak’s or Muammar Qadaffi’s or the Saudis’ looting, We’ve also seen how our government apparently threw its investigation of rich tax cheats to get Switzerland to take three of our Gitmo detainees. Our government complains about the corruption of other countries. But as WikiLeaks makes clear, those complaints are mostly just for public show.
Our government may hate all these disclosures. But they are disclosures we, as citizens, need to demand our government deliver on its promise of democracy.
A democracy comprises diverse elements: institutions and rules; free and fair elections; independent judges and a free press, among others. At the bottom of all this there are legal procedures. When these are flouted, all the rest is put at risk.
We have come to accept the difference between the government that we elect every five years, and the military, bureaucratic, and diplomatic apparatus that it is sustained by, but that all too often it fails to control. The WikiLeaks cables have confirmed this beyond any doubt.
Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers proved our government systematically lied about the war in Vietnam. The WikiLeaks dumps have proved that our government systematically lies about democracy.
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.
The NYT has a very long profile on their interactions with Wikileaks, about which I will have more to say.
But I wanted to point to this meeting, which Bill Keller describes as the NYT’s effort to give the government a “heads up” on the diplomatic cables.
Because of the range of the material and the very nature of diplomacy, the embassy cables were bound to be more explosive than the War Logs. Dean Baquet, our Washington bureau chief, gave the White House an early warning on Nov. 19. The following Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, Baquet and two colleagues were invited to a windowless room at the State Department, where they encountered an unsmiling crowd. Representatives from the White House, the State Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the F.B.I. and the Pentagon gathered around a conference table. Others, who never identified themselves, lined the walls. A solitary note-taker tapped away on a computer. [my emphasis]
It’s bad enough that–as Keller also reports–the NYT has no secure communications.
But is it also the habit of the NYT to meet with the government–including the FBI–on upcoming stories? For all the NYT’s insistence, with Judy Miller, that they would not be an accomplice to a government investigation, what the hell were they doing meeting with the FBI before they published a story?