Because that’s how George Washington would have wanted it. Or something.
Here’s why they published the bank-surveillance expose, by the way:
Our default position — our job — is to publish information if we are convinced it is fair and accurate, and our biggest failures have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough or to report fully enough. After The Times played down its advance knowledge of the Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy reportedly said he wished we had published what we knew and perhaps prevented a fiasco. Some of the reporting in The Times and elsewhere prior to the war in Iraq was criticized for not being skeptical enough of the Administration’s claims about the Iraqi threat.
They’re making amends to the left for not having shown that BUSH LIED before the war by “getting out in front of the news cycle” now on privacy issues. So far out in front, in fact, that they’re using their role “as a protective measure against the abuse of power” to expose programs whose power hasn’t actually been abused. It’s Keller’s version of the preemption doctrine: Bush is a threat to national security so we need to take him out before he does something crazy. And it’s all made possible by idiots like Eric Boehlert and the nutroots, who give him the political cover to do it by mau-mauing the media for too often being “merely” left-wing instead of openly, subversively obstructionist. Which also explains Keller’s bizarre complaint about conservative bloggers at the beginning of the letter, incidentally. This thing is framed as a response to his critics, but it’s not at all; it’s talking points for the left, and kicking the wingnuts in the intro signals it.
The punchline? To preempt Bush, he uses the rhetoric of anti-preemption:
A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don’t know about it.
It’s absurd to think the public should have to ratify every action the executive undertakes. They’ve already granted him a measure of trust by electing him. Keller thinks Bush squandered it, though, on bad pre-war intel and the NSA warrantless wiretaps, such that now his relationship with the public has changed from president and electorate to suspect and grand jury — with the media in the role of independent prosecutor, naturally. We’ve done some discovery, Keller’s saying, and while you may decide not to return an indictment over the SWIFT program, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see the evidence. (And if there happen to be terrorists on the grand jury, more’s the pity.)
His concept of the media’s relationship with the administration is thus explicitly adversarial. He even hints at a boxing metaphor in his letter, describing the press and the government as proceeding “from opposite corners.” Imagine: we’ve got two and a half years more of war to fight under Bush, and the executive editor of the New York Times is telling you he sees his job as obstructing the government even when it hasn’t done anything wrong. Dan Rather said last week that he doesn’t want reporters to practice journalism differently from the way it was practiced in Edward R. Murrow’s day. Does he really think this is how they did it during World War II?
And since when is the Times worried about preempting the electorate, anyway? They didn’t mind preempting our right to pass judgment when they refused to publish the Mohammed cartoons. Where was Independent Prosecutor Keller in that case? Hiding under his desk and dumping in his pants, that’s where.
What would George Washington say?