David R. Henderson  

New York Times Admits to Being Tool of U.S. Government--Again

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Agnostics for Pacifism... Educational Testing...

Thank goodness for international trade and the web.

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece telling us what the New York Times essentially told us if anyone cared to notice: the New York Times admits that it enabled the U.S. government's lying about a CIA agent in Pakistan named Raymond Allen Davis.

The U.K. newspaper, The Guardian, broke the story but stated that some U.S. newspapers were aware of the facts too but hadn't disclosed them. The New York Times fessed up. Its reporters, MARK MAZZETTI, ASHLEY PARKER, JANE PERLEZ and ERIC SCHMITT, wrote:

The New York Times had agreed to temporarily withhold information about Mr. Davis's ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk. Several foreign news organizations have disclosed some aspects of Mr. Davis's work with the C.I.A.

On Monday, American officials lifted their request to withhold publication, though George Little, a C.I.A. spokesman, declined any further comment.


Greenwald notes:
It's one thing for a newspaper to withhold information because they believe its disclosure would endanger lives. But here, the U.S. Government has spent weeks making public statements that were misleading in the extreme -- Obama's calling Davis "our diplomat in Pakistan" -- while the NYT deliberately concealed facts undermining those government claims because government officials told them to do so. That's called being an active enabler of government propaganda.

Greenwald goes on to point out that the NYT's obedience is bipartisan:
Following the dictates of the U.S. Government for what they can and cannot publish is, of course, anything but new for the New York Times. In his lengthy recent article on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller tried to show how independent his newspaper is by boasting that they published their story of the Bush NSA program even though he has "vivid memories of sitting in the Oval Office as President George W. Bush tried to persuade [him] and the paper's publisher to withhold the eavesdropping story"; Keller neglected to mention that the paper learned about the illegal program in mid-2004, but followed Bush's orders to conceal it from the public for over a year -- until after Bush was safely re-elected.

Greenwald also handles here the various criticisms of his piece.



COMMENTS (19 to date)
OneEyedMan writes:

Should we always mind if they are active enablers of government propaganda? They have to live here too.

John Goodman writes:

David, you seem to think this is self evidently bad. Suppose we were in World War II (was that a good war?) and the government asked the NYT to not reveal its plans for the D-Day invasion. Suppose the government openly lied and intentionally tried to misdirect the Germans about our intent.

Wouldn't you be happy if the NYT were complicit?

Ray writes:

Consider their options: Doing it like this they make nice with the current administration which appears to already be a healthy relationship so why would they dump on their close ally.

Outing the CIA agent would draw such intense scrutiny from the Fox news crowd as opposed to what little grief they'll face here now it's a no brainer from a strategic view point.

David R. Henderson writes:

@John Goodman,
In the case of D-Day, I would want the NYT to be complicit. In this case, I don't.
@Ray,
It wasn't a matter of outing a CIA agent. As Greenwald explained, the NYT went further and enabled the U.S. government's lies.

David R. Henderson writes:

@John Goodman,
On further thought, let's come up with one around the time of WWII that's more analogous. FDR gives orders to U.S. Navy ships to attack German ships well before the U.S. is at war. That's a clear violation of neutrality. The NYT finds out about it and goes along with FDR's comments that deny it, printing what it knows to be false. Bad? I say yes. What do you say, John?

John Thacker writes:

Of course, Glenn Greenwald was one of those who found it horrible that Valarie Plame was correctly identified as a non-convert CIA officer who recommended her husband for a mission, information that was also useful context to news, and involved one part of the government wanting to suppress that information.

It was also information that was common knowledge among the DC cocktail party circuit and reporters, but not worth mentioning to the plebes.

I don't have a problem with either piece of information getting out there, but Greenwald should have thought hard before he too was one of those wanting to make government leaking of classified information more difficult and more easy to prosecute.

David R. Henderson writes:

@John Thacker,
You make a potentially good point. I read the Greenwald piece you linked to and couldn't find him saying that he wanted to "make government leaking of classified information more difficult and more easy to prosecute." Perhaps I missed it. Could you point to the paragraph?

John Thacker writes:

In the linked article, he seems very comfortable with the idea of a Special Prosecutor finding out who leaked, and seems very impressed by the idea of the identity of a non-convert CIA agent being "indisputably classified information," linking approvingly to a DoJ indictment. He is very concerned that the person who leaked the information be found and punished.

Here is Glenn dismissing as absurd the defense that "Nothing Libby did with regard to the “leak” itself was illegal because Valerie Plame was not a “covert” agent."

Greenwald's response:

Whether Plame was “covert” or not, the fact that she was employed by the CIA was indisputably classified, and the law prohibited Libby from doing exactly what he did – i.e., disclosing that classified information to those not authorized to receive it (the reporters).

He goes on to categorically state, approvingly, that:

It is illegal to disclose classified information to individuals who are not cleared to receive it. Period. While there is a specific 1982 criminal statute which specifically criminalizes the outing of overseas covert CIA agents and which does require that the agent be covert, the general laws prohibiting unauthorized disclosure of classified information merely require that the disclosed information be classified (which Plame's CIA employment at the time indisputably was).

He may defend himself by claiming that the leaker of Plame's identity may have been pro-Administration (though it later turned out to have been done by anti-Iraq War State Dept. Richard Armitage as a bit of hot gossip, and the whole thing was more of a turf war than the action of a unified government). However, as I'm sure you agree, if you give the government (and specifically the Executive Branch) the power to find and punish leakers, it is inevitable that the government will use it to punish leakers it dislikes a lot more than punish leakers that aid the viewpoint of the part of the government doing the leaking.

John Thacker writes:

Prosecutions for leaking information had been rare to non-existent, at least before President Obama's Administration, which is much tougher than previous Administrations.

Now, I give Greenwald a lot of credit for consistently criticizing the Obama Administration over this, unlike a lot of partisans on the Left willing to overlook the sins of "their team."

However, I also fault him for being one of the biggest cheerleaders for defending the idea that it was illegal to leak the non-covert identity of a CIA agent--and indeed, any "classified information to individuals who are not cleared to received it. Period." and for cheering on investigations and prosecutions of leakers in that case. He certainly made no rhetorical concession at all to the idea that the leak could be of non-dangerous information or of useful context-- no, in the second post I linked he strongly attacked Scooter Libby and Karl Rove's defenders for saying that they only confirmed non-dangerous information that provided context and was already known by many parties, including the reporter to whom they spoke. He allowed for no such defense of the sort he begs for now, when the leaker magically becomes a "whistleblower."

Cheering on the Plame investigation is how he got his start as an Internet celebrity, and eventually his gig at Salon.

At the time, I repeatedly warned him and others that calls for reinvigorating the investigation and prosecution of leakers would do far more harm than good in the long run, because the shoe would inevitably be on the other foot. The government is MUCH more likely to prosecute "good leaks" in the eyes of me and you and Greenwald than "bad leaks." What restrained the government from prosecuting leakers for many years was not the law, but convention and custom. And Greenwald, through his insistence that all leaking of classified information MUST be punished, helped tear down that wall, and we're all living with the consequences.

John Thacker writes:

I posted another comment that I think got held because I had too many supporting links in it, and thus triggered the spam filter. Hopefully it will get published.

I respect Greenwald a lot for criticizing the Obama Adminstration for prosecuting leakers far more than any previous Administration. However, I think that he bears a lot of responsibility for helping to tear down the wall of tradition and policy (not law, as the law was never overturned) that prevented leak prosecutions beforehand.

[Hi, John. I don't see any of your comments that are being held by the spam filter currently.--Econlib Ed.]

Patrick R. Sullivan writes:

Regarding Jim Thacker's comments, what makes Greenwald's actions even worse is that in the Plame case the NY Times was being used by her and her husband to promote false information about Joe Wilson's trip to Niger. And, as Nick Kristoff inadvertently revealed, he knew she was CIA and lied about that.

But, I'm with John Goodman, wouldn't the Times exposing the Obama Admin's lies about the CIA guy also have put his life at risk? Is any cover story for a government agent supposed to be fair game for newspapers. How about (going back to WWII again) Noel Coward's espionage activities for MI6?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Patrick R. Sullivan,
Do you care to answer the question I asked John Goodman?

Patrick R. Sullivan writes:

David, the question you asked John Goodman is incoherent. Would American lives be put at stake by such a revelation?

Or, is your point that FDR was secretly plotting to provoke Germany into attacking us? Which is what actually happened with Japan in the summer of 1941.

Chad Seagre writes:

I think people may be getting wrapped around the axle about the source of information and missing Greenwald's point about the duty of newspapers to report information even (especially?) if it paints government in bad light.

I believe you can hold the following beliefs without contradiction:

1. It is permissible for states to conduct espionage.

2. It is generally impermissible for government officials to make false statements in public.

3. Journalists have a duty to report news, more or less regardless of the source (so long as it is sufficiently credible, of course), even if it reflects poorly on the government.

Greenwald rightfully takes the NYT to task for their lack of journalistic integrity in the Davis case because they knowingly printed "news" they knew wasn't true at the behest of the administration.

At the same time, he can take Libby (or whomever else it was that leaked Plame's relationship with the CIA) to task because such information was relevant only to my premise #1. Newspapers weren't knowingly printing stories that falsely claimed Plame was not a CIA operative. In fact, newspapers weren't reporting on Plame at all, because her involvement with the CIA was a secret (prior to its revelation). To reveal information that was legitimately classified is a crime and Greenwald was right to criticize whomever was responsible for the breach.

Notice, also that concerning the Plame case Greenwald wasn't criticizing newspapers for printing news, but rather the administration officials that broke the law by revealing legitimate secrets. Contrast that with the Davis case where the administration was knowingly making false public statements (violating premise #2) about his status and requesting that newspapers do the same, even when they possessed evidence to the contrary (violating premise #3).


@John Thacker
So, your points about government going after whistleblowers is well-taken, but I think the Plame case is really an apples-oranges comparison. One case involves whether it is acceptable to leak classified information and the other turns on whether newspapers should knowingly print falsehoods at the behest of the administration.


Grant Gould writes:

I don't think the government ought to be able to have it both ways here.

Asking a paper not to print some sensitive fact A is fairly reasonable, provided A is actually sensitive and not merely embarrassing. But the government then expecting the paper to uncritically reprint loud assertions of contradictory fact not-A is way, way off the reservation; the Times should have told the Obama administration to lay off the Davis-is-a-diplomat line of garbage or risk having it exposed in print.

What it comes down to is that media outlets have a duty to avoid printing things they know to be false; if this inconveniences the government, the onus is on it to avoid either the "know" or the "false" parts of that by either being transparent or by restraining its urge to lie.

Of course, the New York Times is a serial offender in this regard; they seem to have decided that their niche in the new media ecosystem is to be a "responsible," "serious" media outlet -- that is, a refuge for irresponsible, unserious journalistic practices.

John Goodman writes:

David, what I think you are really saying is that if the cause is just, you want the Grey Lady to cooperate, but if you think the feds are abusing their power, you want them exposed. But isn't this necessarily a subjective standard?

If we have a CIA agent in Pakistan, isn't it likely the agent is doing something positive? They do have nuclear weapons, large numbers of religious fanatics and they are perhaps harboring people who are trying to blow us up.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Chad Seagre,
Much food for thought. I appreciate your thoughtful distinctions. Thanks.
@John Goodman,
There might be a subjective element but it's not all subjective. One big difference is that the U.S. government is violating the Constitution by fighting in Pakistan. Congress, not the executive, has the power to declare war.
As for Pakistan, I don't think the people there would be plotting to "blow us up" if the U.S. government were not interfering over there. See Robert Pape's work.
I notice, though, that you didn't answer my question about FDR and the U.S. Navy.
@Patrick Sullivan,
I don't think my question is incoherent. FDR wanted in the worst way to go to war against Germany and he tried to do it with his orders to the U.S. Navy. FDR was the one who put American lives at risk.
@John Thacker,
Thanks for that information.

John Goodman writes:

We'll today Congress has totally abdicated its prerogative of declaring war. So if the executive branch is violating the Constitution all over the world, it's with Congress's implied consent. (We even sent special ops in to kill Pablo Escobar in Colombia. Did Congress know? Of course. Did they object? No.)

But let's go back 70 years (when this wasn't so common) and suppose Roosevelt is going to violate the Constitution with a first strike against German ships. If the NYT exposes the plot, it lets the Germans prepare a defense, and lots more Americans get killed as a result. It's not obvious to me that the right corrective is to put American sailors and pilots in jeopardy. Any more than the right corrective for our activities in Pakistan is to sacrifice a CIA agent.

If the NYT wants to expose facts relevant to Roosevelt's impeachment after the fact, OK. If it just puts our soldiers and agents at risk, I have a problem with that. It's not the soldiers who are violating the Constitution, afterall. It's the president and his minions.

David R. Henderson writes:

@John Goodman,
Thanks for answering. You and I would be very different editors.

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