Via Romenesko, Editor & Publisher reports that the editors of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post had a chance to join last weekend’s self-congratulatory op-ed by NYT editor Bill Keller and LA Times editor Dean Baquet. They decided to pass:
Managing Editor Paul Steiger of The Wall Street Journal and Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. of The Washington Post were both asked to be part of last weekend’s unique joint Op-Ed piece by the editors of The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, which defended the publication of stories about the secret SWIFT bank monitoring program, E&P has learned. But each declined. […]
[Steiger] said his choice to decline was not affected by a harsh Journal editorial that ran last Friday and criticized the New York Times for publishing the story — even though the Journal published much the same story. Steiger declined to comment on the editorial, but stressed that the lack of a government request not to publish was a major difference between the two papers’ actions. “It is a big difference if the government asks you not to publish, I would consider that very carefully.” When asked if a government request to hold the story would have blocked publication, Steiger said, “I don’t know how I would have acted.”
Downie said he was approached to add his name to the Baquet/Keller piece sometime last week, but did not want to be part of something that involved other newspapers. “I was contacted by Bill [Keller] and I decided not to participate in a group,” Downie told E&P Wednesday. “I was asked if I was interested in being involved with several editors about this and I declined. I think one of the important things about American journalism is that each newspaper operates on its own and I didn’t want to join in a group situation. We are independent.”
Neither Steiger nor Downie offer an opinion on Keller and Baquet’s op-ed, but if the Bush administration had truly declared war on the press, don’t you think these major newspaper editors would have joined out of solidarity? I think their decision to pass indicates that Keller and Baquet’s attempt to make this a First Amendment issue was nothing more than a distraction intended to deflect legitimate criticism.
Keller and Baquet took sides with their anonymous sources in a dispute with the administration over whether this program should have remained classified or become public. By doing so, they helped their sources break the law and endangered our ability to track terrorists. They’re not comfortable having that debate because their defense — the program wasn’t secret — is ridiculous (NYT’s headline: “Bank Data is Sifted by U.S. in Secret to Fight Terror“).
Obviously, though, not everyone is buying their hypothesis that a mild rebuke from the administration represents a declaration of war on the press.