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