Sunday, January 01, 2006

WOEFULLY INADEQUATE

That's how Byron Calame, the Public Editor of the Times, describes the efforts of Times management to explain their decision to withhold their story about illegal spying on citizens by the National Security Agency for over a year. What's more, when he tried to get explanations from Managing Editor Bill Keller and Publisher Pinch Sulzberger he was "stonewalled."

Many commentators have been critical of the Times' decision to sit on the story for over a year, with others arguing either that there were valid national security reasons to withhold the story, or that the delay enabled the Times to do more reporting, which made the story they ultimately published stronger.

Calame makes two critical points, which seem to militate against these arguments. First, his reading of the wording of the Times' explanation leads him to conclude not that they were working on it for that year, but that the story was essentially done and sitting on the shelf for a year, and that events led them to bring it out and publish. Second, he infers, quite reasonably in my view, that if the story had not been ready to go before the 2004 elections the Times would have fallen all over themselves to make that clear; their failure to do so suggests that it was done, and that they could have run the story before the election. We obviously can't know if the news would have made a difference in how the election came out, but as close as it was I think it was extremely irresponsible for the Times to withhold the story.

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