NY and LA editors jointly defend terror fund stories

There has been little let-up of the criticism of the New York Times – and to a slightly lesser degree, the Los Angeles Times – for their revelations about the US Government's international tracking of suspected terrorist funds.

In fact they are getting more strident. President Bush described the revelation as "disgraceful" and some Republican politicians have even called for The Times to be charged with treason. One Conservative talk show host even went so far, in apparent seriousness, to suggest the editor of The Times should be executed!

Coming on top of the NYT's earlier revelations about wire tapping of overseas telephone calls – again claimed to be an important element in the anti-terrorist war – it has exacerbated the antagonism between the White House and those sections of the Press here regarded as anti-Republican and anti-Bush.

The NY Times and the other papers have said that Washington requested they pull the stories – particularly the one about tracking foreign funds.
But they insist that after careful thought they considered it their duty to run the information – and the public was entitled to know.

In an unpredecented joint editorial, published in both their papers, the editors of the NY Times and the LA Times went to great lengths to explain their motives to their respective readers.
That was followed by a spate of editorials and features by some of America's leading political journalists, most of them defending the way the papers had responded to the White House request for secrecy.

Sample headline: Don't Turn Us Into Poodles – by Nicholas Kristof – who suggested the revelations were, in the main, in the interest of good journalism and withholding information does more damage than good.

Kristof specifically cited the Times’s decision not to write about the plan to invade Cuba in the Sixties, which even President Kennedy later admitted might have averted a disaster if the story had run.

Then in the build-up to the Iraq war did the press do a disservice by not looking more deeply into claims that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction?

In both cases journalists were too compliant, suggested Kristof. "We failed in our watchdog role and we failed our country. Watchdogs can be mean, dumb and obnoxious, but it would be even more dangerous to trade them in for lapdogs"

Other columnists agreed, most of them citing the editor of The Times, William Keller, who in his joint editorial wrote: "Our job is to publish information if we are convinced it is fair and accurate.”
Nonetheless not all readers of The Times appear convinced. Letters to the paper have been running almost equally for and against. Some have applauded the paper, but some have, in the words of one editor, been quite venomous. One, published this week, did say strongly "No matter how you twist it, the Times was wrong. It exercised poor judgement."

The writer went on to suggest: “The New York Times should make a public apology to the American people'".

And so the debate continues…

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