New York Times Ombudsman on Bookgate

Behind the Eavesdropping Story, a Loud Silence,” Byron Calame, New York Times, 1 January 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/01/opinion/01publiceditor.html?ei=5090&en=73506e1ec61c1adb&ex=1293771600&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=print (from Drudge Report).

The second “public editor” of the , , criticizes his employer for covering up the circumstances around the release of possibly damaging information

The New York Times’s explanation of its decision to report, after what it said was a one-year delay, that the National Security Agency is eavesdropping domestically without court-approved warrants was woefully inadequate. And I have had unusual difficulty getting a better explanation for readers, despite the paper’s repeated pledges of greater transparency.

For the first time since I became public editor, the executive editor and the publisher have declined to respond to my requests for information about news-related decision-making. My queries concerned the timing of the exclusive Dec. 16 article about President Bush’s secret decision in the months after 9/11 to authorize the warrantless eavesdropping on Americans in the United States.

I e-mailed a list of 28 questions to Bill Keller, the executive editor, on Dec. 19, three days after the article appeared. He promptly declined to respond to them. I then sent the same questions to Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, who also declined to respond. They held out no hope for a fuller explanation in the future.

Despite this stonewalling, my objectives today are to assess the flawed handling of the original explanation of the article’s path into print, and to offer a few thoughts on some factors that could have affected the timing of the article. My intention is to do so with special care, because my 40-plus years of newspapering leave me keenly aware that some of the toughest calls an editor can face are involved here – those related to intelligence gathering, election-time investigative articles and protection of sources. On these matters, reasonable disagreements can abound inside the newsroom.

Unlike whistleblowing in the face of subversion, this is troublesome. Revealing methods is dangerous, even if using foreign assets for surveillance is old news.

Let’s hope this is investigated, and the criminals are properly punished.