The L.A. Times editor Dean Baquet writes in this letter to readers today:
We sometimes withhold information when we believe that reporting it would threaten a life. In this case, we believed, based on our talks with many people in the government and on our own reporting, that the information on the Treasury Department’s program did not pose that threat. Nor did the government give us any strong evidence that the information would thwart true terrorism inquiries. In fact, a close read of the article shows that some in the government believe that the program is ineffective in fighting terrorism.
It does take a close read, as the only sentence that questions its effectiveness is this one:
Current and former U.S. officials said the effort has been only marginally successful against Al Qaeda, which long ago began transferring money through other means, including the highly informal banking system common in Islamic countries.
Most of the article details how and why it works. The story opens with the LA Times saying that the program is “considered a potent weapon in the war on terrorism because of its ability to clandestinely monitor financial transactions and map terrorist webs.” So, which current and former U.S. officials think this method of tracking terrorists is ineffective?
Baquet goes on to invoke the founders.
The founders of the nation actually gave us [the obligation to cover the government], and instructed us to follow it, no matter the cost or how much we are criticized.
Baquet apparently thinks that any criticism of the press is unwarranted and undeserved. If all editors think – indeed, believe — that the freedom of the press shields them from any and all criticism, that would certainly explain the cavalier behavior seen recently.
In the end, we felt that the legitimate public interest in this program outweighed the potential cost to counterterrorism efforts.
It surprises me greatly that the L.A. Times considers itself to be the best judge of both “legitimate public interest” as well as the “cost to counterterrorism efforts.” Herein lies the arrogance.
UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt compares Baquet’s letter to his own interview with Doyle McManus. Lots of conflicts. Notably (as Spruiell noted here), that the decision had not actually been made until after the NYT published their version. No mention of that in Baquet’s letter.