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Court Journalism and the National Interest



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Recent leaks — the cyberwar secrets, the drone methodology, the double agent in Yemen, the details of the bin Laden mission, and the trove of information that accrued from it — juxtaposed with polls that have consistently shown uncertainty about Obama’s natural-security fides (cf. the serial boasting of Joe Biden that Obama’s decision is the most significant accomplishment in recent military history) are a time bomb.

Unlike the terrible Fast and Furious scandal, the Secret Service fiasco, the Solyndra boondoggle and solar con, or the GSA mess, we are talking about endangerment to the collective security of the entire United States — and not just due to laxity or incompetence but apparently due to calibrated political advantage. These targeted leaks seem to be part of a larger culture of narrowly defined and opportunistic access and political imaging. For is there not something terribly wrong when, to take just two examples, a David Sanger is apparently given access to such top-secret information, or when a David Ignatius, chest-thumps “exclusive,” as he offers his own analyses of once classified al-Qaeda documents seized from the bin Laden compound, for which he alone apparently was selected as gatekeeper to examine and analyze what he thinks is and is not important for Americans to know?

Does a Sanger or Ignatius or any of these conduits of classified, or selectively classified information, ever question why they are selected by administration sources to view top-secret data, or to hear off-the-record official accounts of such information, or whether the temporary acclaim they win by branding their insider book or article “exclusive” is more than negated by the general perception that their politics are their keys to the national-security lockbox, and their subsequent story will be assumed, albeit in skillful nuanced fashion, to reflect well on those who fed them the stream of detail? That an administration source may “check” the subsequent book or article before publication is not proof for a reporter of following protocols, but of adhering to an implicit bargain. That we read from these modern Procopiuses that the troubled Obama scans moral and philosophical texts as he selects who is to die by Predator drones, rather than, say, like Nixon, watches repeats of Patton, is pathetic.

This scandal will not go away, because it is so reckless that it will go well beyond Republican efforts to score political points, as it equally enrages congressional Democrats, Defense Department non-political officials, the CIA, and the intelligence community at large, whose careers and lives are jeopardized by such serial leaking. There is a toxic relationship now between high members of this administration, and favored marquee reporters such as those at the New York Times and Washington Post, who have crafted a hand-washes-hand relationship that, whether inadvertent or not, has put all our safety at risk. Obama himself seems not so much angry that his own are leaking to form favorable narratives, but angry that anyone would dare suggest to him that they are. That, too, is an untenable position and will change.

This will not stand, and until those who are doing these terrible things to the country are fired, the story will not go away.



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