The president and the New York Times can’t both be right. If the president is correct, then the paper of record, which has so far seemed to be a willing receptacle for the administration’s leaks, must be printing fabrications. Last month the same newspaper detailed how the president directs U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen based on a classified “kill list” of terror suspects, a story based on information from “three dozen” of the president’s “current and former advisers.” So the latest Times article on Iran, revealing what the administration has now tacitly acknowledged as a joint U.S.-Israeli program, looks to be merely the most recent installment in a campaign of intentional leaks damaging to our national security.
The administration, needless to say, sees things differently. From the perspective of Obama’s handlers, and perhaps of their friends in the press, these leaks are spellbinding episodes in a Hollywood-worthy narrative of the president as ever-vigilant superhero, with his finger on the button, ready at a moment’s notice to bring the full weight of American power to bear on our adversaries, so that we may all sleep safely at night. It’s epic, all right. But it’s spin.
All White Houses engage in political stagecraft, but this is something else. The Obama administration can rightly claim the crown of laurels for killing Osama bin Laden—even if the program and personnel that brought down the al Qaeda chief were in place long before Obama came to office. But due credit was not enough for the Obama team. To craft a story about a heroic president and his leading part in American history, the administration rolled out the red carpet for moviemakers like Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow, and gorged the working press with details. It was this information that disclosed the role of a local doctor whose efforts on behalf of an American clandestine operation earned him a 33-year sentence in a Pakistani prison.