In the Observer article
, entitled "Risen Gave Times A Non-Disclosure On Wiretap Book," by Gabriel Sherman, new details are revealed, others confirmed or expanded upon, that raise questions about why the Times waited for over
a year, not "a year"
as the original Times article suggested, to finally publish this huge story that could well implicate the president in impeachable offenses. The Times fudging of the timeline is significant, and it was almost certainly intentional. If the Times had the story "a year" ago, that would have been December, 2004 -- after
the presidential election. The Observer confirms that the Times had the story before
the election, a decision that, intentional or not, insulated the White House from disclosures that might well have cost it the election:
...In October 2004, Mr. Risen first presented editors with a story about the secret N.S.A. wiretapping program, the sources said.
goes on to describe a tense relationship between James Risen and the Times, suggesting that he was not entirely on board with the decision to hold the story. It is also difficult to avoid the suspicion that the NSA story might not ever have seen the light of day in the Times were it not for its impending disclosure in Risen's book
"State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration." The article
gives us an inside view:
New York Times editors published reporter James Risen's December account of National Security Agency wiretapping without having seen the manuscript of Mr. Risen's book on the same subject, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the events.
...When [The Times] decided to send the long-gestating N.S.A. piece to press in December, Times editors couldn't confirm whether Mr. Risen's manuscript contained the wiretapping story or not. In the end, they didn't see the book until a week before it was in bookstores.
Through several months in late 2005, Mr. Risen and bureau chief Phil Taubman had clashed over whether Times editors would get a preview of the book's closely guarded contents, sources said. It was not until Dec. 27 --- 11 days after the wiretapping story had run --- that Mr. Risen relented and allowed Mr. Taubman to see the manuscript. Mr. Risen insisted that senior editors who viewed the pre-publication copy sign nondisclosure agreements and agree not to discuss the book's contents...
...On Jan. 9, author James Bamford reviewed Mr. Risen's book in The Times' arts section. "Among the unanswered questions concerning the domestic spying story is why," Mr. Bamford wrote, "if Mr. Risen and The Times had first come upon the explosive information a year earlier, the paper waited until just a few weeks before the release of the book to inform its readers."
According to people with knowledge of the Washington bureau, the publication of Mr. Risen's book was the endnote to a months-long internal struggle between Mr. Risen and Times editors over ownership of the book's contents.
...Mr. Risen left on book leave in January 2005. According to multiple sources, he told editors he was writing a book about former C.I.A. chief George Tenet--and did not reveal that he would be using previously reported Times material about the N.S.A. wiretapping in the book.
Mr. Risen returned to the paper in June 2005. By September, rumors were circulating in the bureau that the book would contain the N.S.A. material.
Executive editor Bill Keller has said in public statements that the book was not a factor in the timing of the N.S.A. story. But sources with knowledge of the internal debate at The Times said that editors, unsure what Mr. Risen's book might say, pressed to publish the story before the end of the year...
...[Mr. Risen's] use of the book as a release valve for unpublished Times material has left his relations with the paper strained. Inside The Times, newsroom sources said, there is mounting speculation that Mr. Risen may be in negotiations to return to his former employer, the Los Angeles Times.
Another passage in the Observer article suggests that Keller disagreed with the Times decision to withhold the NSA revelations for over a year:
In public appearances promoting the book--which is currently ninth on the Times best-seller list-- Mr. Risen has declined to discuss the back story of the N.S.A. piece. "I've agreed with the paper not to get into all the internal deliberations except to say that I think it was a great public service when we did publish it, because now we can have this debate about the substance of this issue," Mr. Risen told Larry King on Jan. 16.
One can't help but wonder if implicit in that statement is Risen's belief that holding the story was something other than "a great public service."
And so the Times sat on a story that might have brought down the Bush administration had they published it before the 2004 election.
Flash back to the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq when the now-discredited Judith Miller wrote story after story, virtually all of them wrong, suggesting that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities that represented a grave threat to world peace. Most of these stories graced the front page of the Times despite questionable documentation, while some others that suggested otherwise, including some by James Risen, were buried deep within the paper if they were published at all (see Now they Tell us, New York Review of Books). Again, intentional or not, the Times, through the influence of its front page and the questionable reporting of Judith Miller, acted as facilitator for the Bush administration's march to war.
Now flash forward to the events that ultimately brought Ms. Miller down, the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation. Ms. Miller, you'll recall, went to jail rather than reveal that Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. "Scooter" Libby, had played a role in the leaking of the identity of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA employee and wife of Niger "yellowcake" whistleblower Joseph Wilson. Miller's insistence upon blanket immunity was dubious at best, but again let me cite a passage from the Observer article:
This week, Ms. Miller told an audience in Florida that The Times spent $1.7 million on her legal defense.
Remember that Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and Managing Editor Bill Keller knew that Miller was shielding Libby, another revelation that, if it were made public, could have impacted the 2004 election to the detriment of George W. Bush. Through the silence of the Times and the delaying impact of its $1.7 million dollars, the facts would not become known until after the 2004 election.
The Observer article
alludes to another story of less import, but equally disturbing:
...any exit by Mr. Risen would carry legal considerations for The Times. Mr. Risen is among the journalists currently held in contempt in the civil case brought by former Los Alamos atomic scientist Wen Ho Lee, who is suing the government for leaking his private information to the press. The Times faces fines of $500 a day--currently stayed on appeal--for Mr. Risen's refusal to identify the confidential sources of his Lee stories.
Wen Ho Lee, you'll recall, was the nuclear scientist at New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory, accused, and ultimately exonerated, of stealing U.S. nuclear technology on behalf of China. The story was broken in March 1999 by James Risen and Jeff Gerth in The New York Times, and the Times relentlessly pursued the case based on leaked information that proved to be groundless. From an excellent recap in Salon:
Once the Lee case came to light, the media, and particularly the New York Times, picked up the story and ran with it, blaring charges that it was the most serious instance of nuclear espionage since the Rosenbergs. The accusations about Chinese spying and Clinton administration involvement seeped into contemporary political folklore... The coverage of the case in the mainstream press was shameless and lazy.
And also from Salon, and more to the point, "How the New York Times helped railroad Wen Ho Lee":
Its reporters relied on slim evidence, quick conclusions and loyalty to sources with an ax to grind. Too bad the paper of record learned nothing from its role in Whitewater.
Ultimately the Times apologised
for its Wen Ho Lee coverage, but their subsequent actions leave one in doubt about lessons learned. Meanwhile the Times, in a case with eerie similarities to Judith Miller's, finds itself in court shielding sources who, for partisan gain, attempted to implicate the Clinton administration in a major national security scandal on the eve of a presidential campaign in which George W. Bush ultimately prevailed.
Then there is the case of Steven Hatfill, the former U.S. Army bioweapons expert hounded by then Attorney General John Ashcroft and by the FBI -- but never charged -- as a "person of interest" in the Anthrax attacks that occurred in the months following 911. That story was also broken by the Times, this time by Nicholas Kristoff, and again the Times relentlessly assisted its anonymous government sources in tarring a man against whom the government apparently lacked any evidence.
Both the Wen Ho Lee case and the Hatfill case are working their way through the courts, and so far the Times' attempts to have them dismissed have failed. In both cases the Times is shielding sources with a political agenda, interested in anything but "the public's right to know," just as was the case with Judith Miller's sources.
Today the Times is at the receiving end of a Justice Department leak investigation over its NSA surveillance story. How ironic that the story they almost did not print may finally result in the Times shielding a true whistleblower.
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