Media Blog

Keller and Murtha

Yesterday on The Situation Room, NYT editor Bill Keller told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (video):

KELLER: To the best of my knowledge, three people outside of the administration were asked by the administration to call us. I spoke to one of them. One of them spoke to our Washington bureau chief. One of them spoke to Jill Abramson, our managing editor. All of them spoke, they thought, in confidence, and I don’t think I will breach the confidence of what they said, although I will say that not all of them urged us not to publish.
BLITZER: Because in the letter from the treasury secretary, he specifically refers to former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, who, together with the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Governor Tom Kean of New Jersey, appealed to you not to print this information. I assume you can confirm Lee Hamilton, since the treasury secretary has disclosed his name.
KELLER: I am happy to tell you who we spoke to. I think I’ll leave it to them to tell you what they actually said, but I will say that…
BLITZER: Who were the three people outside of the administration that asked you not to report this information?
KELLER: Tom Kean, Lee Hamilton and Congressman Jack Murtha.

This exchanged raised several questions. First, did the administration ask Murtha to speak to the New York Times about this program? Second, Keller said of the three outside officials, ”not all of them urged us not to publish.” We know Hamilton and Kean urged the NYT not to publish. Did Murtha not urge the NYT not to publish details of a classified program?
The phrasing of Blitzer’s question makes it difficult to guess. He asked, who were the three people “that asked you not to report this information.” Keller told him it was Kean, Hamilton and Murtha.
I called Murtha’s office today and got this response from his communications director: “It’s a classified program and he’s not going to talk about it.” She refused to comment beyond that.
Did Murtha speak to an NYT editor about the program and fail to urge the paper to refrain from publishing the details of a sensitive intelligence-gathering operation? Keller’s not talking. Murtha’s not talking. How will we ever find out?
We probably never will. As Andy McCarthy wrote yesterday, the press reserves a secrecy for itself that it finds unacceptable in our efforts to kill and capture terrorists.

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