The Boston Globe | IRE | The New York Times
Speaking at the Investigative Reporters & Editors awards lunch Saturday, New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson said complaints about The Times’ coverage of covert operations are dissonant:
“Prominent Democrats complained that the sources who disclosed details and aspects of these operations to the Times had endangered national security by letting America’s enemies know too much about secret programs,’’ she said, referring to the drone and cyber warfare stories. “Republicans, meanwhile, accused the Obama administration itself of leaking sensitive details in order to portray the president as an active and able protector of the national security, a kind of superhero president. Both, clearly, can’t be true.’’
Abrams said the Obama administration’s prosecutions involving leaks are ominous:
“The United States has never had an official secrets act,’’ she said. “This would be antithetical to our democratic values. But it seems time to me to ask whether a once obscure espionage law from long ago is now being used to substitute for one.’’
Abramson also denied the paper was being spun to make President Obama look tougher: “Sensitive stories do not fall into our hands. We often report on them for months,” she said.
And that has become more difficult.
…several reporters who have covered national security for decades have told her that “the environment has never been tougher or information harder to dislodge. One Times reporter told me, ‘The environment in Washington has never been more hostile to reporting,’ ’’ she said.
You can watch the whole video here.
On Sunday, Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane wrote that Abramson relies on two company-generated documents when weighing whether to publish sensitive material:
One is an Op-Ed column written in 1972 by A. M. Rosenthal, then the managing editor, who asserted one year after the case that publication of the Pentagon Papers had served the public well and had led to no national security setbacks.
The other is an affidavit by Max Frankel, then the Washington bureau chief, submitted in court in support of publishing the secret documents. It is a canny discussion of how democracy is well-served by the ecosystem of reporters and government officials trafficking in secrets while taking care to protect the nation’s core security interests.
Ms. Abramson added, “No story about details of government secrets has come near to demonstrably hurting the national security in decades and decades.”
“As I view all this,” Brisbane writes, “I conclude that Max Frankel’s Washington ecosystem produces rough truth, perhaps the best that can be achieved at a time when the nation’s most essential policies and programs are cloaked in secrecy and reporters have to scrounge in the dark for information.”