At the heart of the controversy surrounding The New York Times’ decision to run stories about the U.S. government’s secret detention centers in Eastern Europe, the telecommunications eavesdropping program, and now the financial eavesdropping program, is the question of which government programs can be revealed to the public and when they can be revealed.
America has survived 250 years worth of wars and scandal. Through it all, the press has served as a watchdog of the government, often times uncovering unflattering truths that our duly elected representatives and their appointees would rather be left in the dark. At other times, the press made more controversial decisions to inform the public of secret government programs that these officials claim would damage national security.
It is not true that only the winners write the history books. Sometimes, the losers figure out how they lost. Far after their defeat, these losers gather documents and connect dots that point to the moral ambiguity of the winners’ means of victory. History is revised and the winners don’t look so good in their new limelight.
We have no idea whether the decision by The New York Times and other publication outlets actually threatens national security. When I say “we,” I mean every single one of us, from the President to the citizen journalists in the blogosphere.
If our government is to be believed, then there is no doubt that we are all now at great risk because of a few newspaper articles. Reading between their lines, it seems that they are arguing that if terrorists attack America, we can safely blame The New York Times and everyone else who dared to talk about what the government did not want the public to know.
Some secrets should be kept secret: troop movements in wartime, for example. However, if the press is to maintain their watchdog role, then I would err on the side of more information being leaked, rather than less. No government has earned our trust enough to give them a blank check when it comes to managing domestic and foreign policy.
The New York Times can’t win; they were criticized (and they critcized themselves) over not asking enough questions and saying too little in the lead-up to the war. Now, they are criticized by our representatives in Congress and our President for asking too many questions and saying too much. Some threaten to pull their press credentials.
In a war that could last generations, I do not trust our government enough, or any other government, to manage the press.
Let the press duke it out with the government. That’s why we pay them; to do the job that we could not do on our own.