The Timing May Be Off

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But I'll bet the prediction still holds true. The New York Times "Public Editor", Byron Calame has now admitted that the New York Times should not have published the story about the terrorist money tracking program.

My July 2 column strongly supported The Times’s decision to publish its June 23 article on a once-secret banking-data surveillance program. After pondering for several months, I have decided I was off base. There were reasons to publish the controversial article, but they were slightly outweighed by two factors to which I gave too little emphasis. While it’s a close call now, as it was then, I don’t think the article should have been published.

Those two factors are really what bring me to this corrective commentary: the apparent legality of the program in the United States, and the absence of any evidence that anyone’s private data had actually been misused. I had mentioned both as being part of “the most substantial argument against running the story,” but that reference was relegated to the bottom of my column.

The source of the data, as my column noted, was the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift. That Belgium-based consortium said it had honored administrative subpoenas from the American government because it has a subsidiary in this country.

I haven’t found any evidence in the intervening months that the surveillance program was illegal under United States laws. Although data-protection authorities in Europe have complained that the formerly secret program violated their rules on privacy, there have been no Times reports of legal action being taken. Data-protection rules are often stricter in Europe than in America, and have been a frequent source of friction.

Also, there still haven’t been any abuses of private data linked to the program, which apparently has continued to function. That, plus the legality issue, has left me wondering what harm actually was avoided when The Times and two other newspapers disclosed the program. The lack of appropriate oversight — to catch any abuses in the absence of media attention — was a key reason I originally supported publication. I think, however, that I gave it too much weight.

Calame puts this admission second in his column. After a, quite frankly, useless explanation of why the Times is becoming more magazine-like to support the core news gathering. Uh, sure. A lot of us have been saying ever since the publication of details of a legal program with adequate oversight, that the Times was badly out of line. Nice of Calame to finally notice the nose on his face. Patterico lauds the column for honesty, then calls for Calame to resign. He's right.

Back to that prediction. I said NYT editor Bill Keller would be gone by end of summer. Wrong. But I bet it won't be long now. I think that may be why Calame is trying to get out in front of this. With the recent disclosure that the Times' revenues are taking a real dive, Pinch the publisher will be going away at the next shareholder's meeting. Keller will be gone then or even sooner.

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4 Responses to The Timing May Be Off

  1. Pingback: Flopping Aces » Blog Archive » Bush Made Me Do It

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  3. Ric Locke says:

    With the recent disclosure that the Times’ revenues are taking a real dive, Pinch the publisher will be going away at the next shareholder’s meeting.

    Sadly, no.

    Byzantines would boggle at the corporate structure of the NYT. I’m not sure why anybody would actually buy stock in it, because the bottom line is that Sulzberger’s family can do anything they want, public stockholders, SEC, etc. be damned. “Pinch” will be there so long as he can placate his relatives; minor stuff like the company showing a profit is irrelevant.

    There are only two ways to get rid of Pinch Sulzberger. One of them is for some court somewhere to say the three magic words (“twenty to life”). The other I don’t recommend, since it involves loud noises and is likely to get you mentioned unfavorably in the Times.


  4. Black Jack says:

    Too little, too late. Actions speak louder than words. No sale.

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