Dean Baquet is now ‘much more skeptical’ about government claims of harm

NPR | The Intercept

New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet told David Folkenflik it was “really painful” to lose the Edward Snowden scoops to The Guardian and The Washington Post. Snowden’s decision to take the documents to those outlets “was the bitter harvest of seeds sown by the Times almost a decade ago,” Folkenflik writes:

In the fall of 2004, just ahead of the November general elections, the Times’ news leadership spiked an exclusive from Washington correspondents James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, disclosing massive warrantless domestic eavesdropping by the NSA.

White House officials had warned that the results of such a story could be catastrophic.

The Times, in a decision led by then-Washington Bureau Chief Philip Taubman and then-Executive Editor Bill Keller, quashed the story, despite the objections of the two reporters, their editor Rebecca Corbett, and several of their colleagues.

“I am much, much, much more skeptical of the government’s entreaties not to publish today than I was ever before,” Baquet said.

Glenn Greenwald writes that the Snowden revelations occasioned a “desperately needed debate about journalism itself, and the proper relationship of journalists to those who wield political and economic power.” He’s encouraged by Baquet’s words, but wary.

“As is always the case, the stream of fear-mongering and alarmist warnings issued by the US Government to demonize a whistleblower proves to be false and without any basis, and the same is true for accusations made about the revelations themselves,” Greenwald writes. “But none of that has stopped countless US journalists from mindlessly citing each one of the latest evidence-free official claims as sacred fact.”

Greenwald notes Baquet once killed an NSA story, when he ran the Los Angeles Times. It was about “‘secret NSA rooms’ being installed at an AT&T switching center in San Francisco.”

Baquet “said that story proved overly technical and difficult to verify,” Folkenflik writes, and “he said the subsequent New York Times article on the same subject proved vague and was buried inside the paper.”

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