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An “Alert” Press?

Today’s editorial in the Washington Post argues that, while news organizations may sometimes make mistakes, people still shouldn’t get so upset about them:

There may be times when editors get it wrong, either printing material that proves harmful or withholding information that should have come to light. But these are risks that the Constitution contemplated and that the Framers were persuaded were worth tolerating to ensure a free and vigorous press.

In support of this argument, the editorial quotes Justice Potter Stewart’s opinion from the Pentagon Papers case:

“In the absence of the governmental checks and balances present in other areas of our national life, the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power in the areas of national defense and international affairs may lie in an enlightened citizenry — in an informed and critical public opinion which alone can here protect the values of democratic government,” he wrote. “For this reason, it is perhaps here that a press that is alert, aware, and free most vitally serves the basic purpose of the First Amendment. For, without an informed and free press, there cannot be an enlightened people.”

Similarities have been – and can be — drawn between the Pentagon Papers and the disclosure of the TFTP. However, the problem with disclosing the TFTP lies not with informed members of the public, but with informed members of terrorist organizations. The Pentagon Papers largely made the government look bad. The disclosure of the TFTP largely makes it harder for us to fight terrorists.
The editorial, while still refusing to lay any blame on the NYT, says this later on:

All administrations jealously guard secrets, often for important reasons. But this administration, more than any since the one that prosecuted the Pentagon Papers case, has resisted disclosure and effective oversight, whether by Congress or the press. This across-the-board aversion to scrutiny makes it all the more difficult for responsible media organizations to separate the legitimate claims of national security from the overblown.

While artfully avoiding the word “Nixon” throughout the editorial, the Washington Post stunningly lays the blame for this disclosure on the Bush administration – because they guard all secrets closely, that makes it harder for poor media folk to distinguish between what should and shouldn’t get published. It was only a matter of time before Bush got blamed for this.

Nathan GouldingNathan Goulding is the Chief Technology Officer of National Review. He often goes by “Chaka” in NRO’s popular blog The Corner. While having never attended a class in computer science, ...


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