I realize that I am going off the deep end with the phony, Roverian SWIFT "scandal" - but it keeps on infuriating me.
Today's editorial in The Wall Street Journal almost pushed me right over the cliff, but in the end I had to hold tight, because it also showed how hugely important this issue really is.
The thesis of the article is that the Journal committed no wrong, while the Times was evil, because the Journal reports the news just the way that the government wants, and the Times just won't. Here's the story as the Journal tells it: the administration asked the Times not to publish the story, but after considering the government's arguments for quite a while, that grossly irresponsible Times notified them that they were going to publish the story in a week. The Feds asked for an extension - they needed an extra day to get their spin organized. The Times said sure.
Thus far in its narrative, the editorial has been pretty specific about names and times. At this point it gets all vague. "Around the same time, Treasury contacted Journal reporter..." Who at the Treasury made the contact? Does the reporter really not know the date on which he was contacted? Their "guess" for why this happened at all is that Treasury thought it would get "a straighter story," one which did not push "a violation of privacy angle." The Journal, then, would write it the way that government wanted. (In the event, the Times article in no way "pushed" a violation of privacy angle.)
Fearing an accusation, the editorial defends the Journal's decision to run the story, by saying that it was never asked not to publish, was unaware that the Times had been asked not to publish, and that it was administration officials who were giving them the information. "If this was a leak, it was entirely authorized." Still, the Journal doesn't mention the names of the leaker(s). I already have a hard time with anonymous sources, but an anonymous authorized leaking source is really beyond me. What respectable newspaper would simply publish "authorized leaks"? Isn't that why the government has its own printing press?
The Journal then speculates as to whether or not it would have published a story that the government did not want it to, and concludes that they would have followed instructions. They characterize Keller's "argument that the terrorists surely knew about the Swift monitoring is his own leap of faith." This from a financial paper? Osama bin Laden owned an import and export business in the Sudan. Another company of his in the Sudan built an 800 mile long road in that country. He had worked for his father's company - which operates in many different countries. In his first years of fighting and as he climbed up the terrorist ladder he specialized in moving money - both his own and the money he collected from friends and family in Saudi Arabia - all around the world. Buying arms to ship from here to there, arranging travel so a Yemeni fighter could get to Afghanistan. Financing infrastructure building in Afghanistan. Paying fighters in Bosnia.
As former British Cabinet member Robin Cook noted, the name of the organization he founded , al Qaeda, in translation means the database. Osama's success in the world of terrorism was his ability to organize and to fund a virtual army whose soldiers came from various countires, and who had banded together to oust the Russians from Afghanistan. To imply that assuming Osama's knowledge of SWIFT requires a "leap of faith" is simply a damnable lie on the part of the Wall Street Journal.
Calling the kettle black, the editorial continues it's lament at the level of partisanship on display at the editorial page of the Times. While insisting that the wall between editorial and reportorial be acknowledged and respected at the Journal, no such courtesy is extended to the Times.
In a brief attempt to trick the reader into believing that they are reading something fair, the Journal spends a paragraph in reasonable pontification. They run through a few calculations that the press should make prior to publication:things like a government's need for secrecy being balanced against the public right to know. Fair enough. But the Journal doesn't actually examine the issues it raises. It simply declares that many Americans don't think the Times "would make those calculations in anything like close to good faith." It's called the "we've piled onto the campaign of lies and smears about the Times, and now a lot of people have doubts about them" argument.
With a typically dishonest bit of trickery the Journal then smears the publisher of the Times. Their trick lies in treating an implication as a fact: "Perhaps Mr. Keller has been listening to his boss," and that's why he got everything wrong. They have absolutely no idea what influence Sulzberger may or may not have had on Keller. But they grab onto it as an opportunity to attack Sulzberger, who at a recent graduation talked of a "misbegotten war in a foreign land", of "the stench of corruption in government," of "the horrors and futility of war" as well as problems in the world with human rights. To the Journal this is proof that Sulzberger's "major goal" is "not winning the war on terror but obstructing it." Right, so if you object to aspects of the war, say that corruption exists in government, and that there's room for improvement on human rights issues around the world, what you really are up to is trying to stop the government from preventing another murderous attack on the city where you and much of your family live.
Approaching its conclusion, the editorial give up any pretense to logic or consistency. Instead it talks of a paper in WWII that clearly betrayed real, honest to God, national security secrets. It commends the decision not to prosecute the paper, in part "because it would have drawn more attention" to the actual facts in the revelation. Not for an instant does it occur to the Journal that this administration has done exactly the opposite. It has used every gambit in its power to focus public attention on this "revelation." To me, this is additional evidence that the administration does not really consider this "scandal" anything other than a weapon with which to attack the "liberal" media. Their partisan use of this war continues to be despicable.
But now comes the really scary part. A respected (?) newspaper in this country essentially argues that if the Times continues to challenge and annoy the administration, it's taking a really big risk. "Once a government starts indicting reporters for publishing stories, there will be no drawing any lines against such prosecutions, and we will be well down the road to an Official Secrets Act that will let government dictate coverage." The Journal is rewriting the First Amendment here, and it's terrifying: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of the Press, unless they are instructed to so do by the President." (Portions in italics added by Bush and agreed to by the Journal.) What you learned about the Constitution in school was pure malarkey: freedom of the press is a luxury that can berevoked by the President whenever he feels like it.
"Already, its partisan demand for a special counsel in the Plame case has led to a reporter going to jail..." So by asking for a special prosecutor, which it did against Clinton as well, the Times is responsible for sending its own reporter to jail, who was trying to protect leakers that were members of the administration, and it is also responsible for Bush's upcoming demand that Congress enact an unconstitutional Official Secrets Act.
It sort of takes your breath away.