NY Times Hypocrisy: The Empire Strikes Back

When you point out that the emperor has no clothes, you're bound to get an angry reaction from the emperor's court. When the dis—robed monarch is the New York Times, it's likely to come as blowback from the elite Northeast media.

A few days ago in an article posted on The American Thinker, I exposed an example of blatant hypocrisy by the New York Times. That newspaper has led the attack on the Bush administration's domestic surveillance of international communications by individuals with suspected terrorist ties.

I had the temerity to point out that when a far more invasive and intrusive spying operation, called Echelon, was confirmed during the Clinton administration, the Times actually called it 'a necessity.' Rather than a limited number of people—no more than 500 at a given time—affected by the current surveillance, Echelon 'captures and analyzes virtually every phone call, fax, email and telex message sent anywhere in the world,' an independent study found.

My article, gratifyingly, struck a chord with readers and was widely linked on the web and even picked up by some general media, including last Saturday's print and on—line editions of the New York Post. A columnist for the Boston Globe, a newspaper owned by the New York Times, wrote a column on her blog site and is emailing it to other bloggers in an attempt to discredit my article.

The writer, Cathy Young, has every right to voice her criticism. However, I feel compelled to correct some of the flaws in her analysis.

First, Ms. Young does not identify herself in her piece as a columnist for the Globe, although she does so on her website. Neither in her article nor on her website does she acknowledge that the Globe is owned by the New York Times Company. While this fact does not disqualify Ms. Young from commenting on my article, the journalistic principle of full disclosure should have compelled her to divulge this apparent—if not real—conflict of interest. This association could explain some conclusions to which Ms. Young jumps regarding my article.

Some of the criticisms Ms. Young makes are pertinent. Others are picayune. For instance, she accuses me of not using ellipses (...) to start a quote. She's right. I did so, not—as Ms. Young claims—to change the nature of the quote, but as a matter of style.  ...starting a sentence like this, without a capital, has always bothered me stylistically.

Many of the arguments Ms. Young makes to refute my article actually help confirm, totally unintentionally, the thesis of my piece. To support her contention that the Times has treated both surveillance stories similarly, she points to three other Times articles. One, a December, 1999 Times article about Echelon by James Risen, she says

'bore the sarcastic title, 'Don't  Read This; If You Do, They May Have to Kill You.''

Oh, really, Ms. Young? The Times met the Echelon story with sarcasm?

Compare that attempt at humor to the indignation, indeed the outrage, with which the Times and other media outlets have covered the current story. And according to Ms. Young, the Times buried that Risen article in its Week in Review section, far from the front page of the paper. Ms. Young also refers to another 'fairly critical' (her words) article in February, 2000, and, then, a third piece which ran in July of 2000 ... more than a year after the story I cited.

This record doesn't even begin to compare to the coverage they have given the current surveillance story.

Ms. Young also notes that the May, 1999 story I referred to in my article appeared in the Times' Technology section. Not exactly the same above—the—fold, page 1A treatment they've given their current surveillance reports.

Ms. Young states, accurately, that the title of the Times article I quoted from was, "Lawmakers Raise Questions About International Spy Network.'

Compared to the tone of recent coverage, the story might as well have been titled, "Lawmakers Raise Questions About International Spy Network. Yawn.'

The title also reveals that the story was a reaction to public concern already expressed by lawmakers and not the result of aggressive reporting initiated by the Times. Again, compare that to the Times' current coverage and draw your own conclusions.

In my article, I wrote that in calling Echelon a necessity, 'the Times actually defended the existence of Echelon'.


''The Times defended' seems to imply an editorial stance,' Ms. Young objects.

However, I neither stated nor implied that the story was an editorial, a product of the Times Op—Ed page, or anything other than a news article. It is even more relevant and damning that the phrase 'few dispute the necessity of a system like Echelon' was part of news coverage and not an editorial: stating it as a fact of the story and not just opinion.

Ms. Young also accuses me of splitting the following quotation. Yes, I did. I put the second half of the quote in its own separate paragraph rather than burying it. I didn't want it to be ignored by the emphasis I gave the key element. She then combines the two parts of the quote.

'While few dispute the necessity of a system like Echelon to apprehend foreign spies, drug traffickers and terrorists, many are concerned that the system could be abused to collect economic and political information.'

And she concludes: 'Reads rather differently, doesn't it?'

Well, no, it doesn't. The key phrase remains, 'few dispute the necessity of a system like Echelon.' 'Few dispute the necessity' means that the Times says practically everyone, the Times obviously included, agrees that an invasive program like Echelon is necessary; while 'many are concerned that the system could be abused' means that many people—500? 5,000? 10,000?—are concerned that Echelon might at some point in the future be misused ... even though two of the Times' own sources had concluded elsewhere that Echelon was already being abused.

The Times article quoted one of those sources making a statement far different from the conclusion he reached in a report about Echelon. The Times quote read:

"The recent revelations about China's spying activities in the U.S. demonstrates that there is a clear need for electronic monitoring capabilities," said Patrick Poole, a lecturer in government and economics at Bannock Burn College in Franklin, Tenn., who compiled a report on Echelon for the Free Congress Foundation. "But those capabilities can be abused for political or economic purposes so we need to ensure that there is some sort of legislative control over these systems."

Whereas in his report, Poole concluded:

'ECHELON is also being used for purposes well outside its original mission. The regular discovery of domestic surveillance targeted at American civilians for reasons of 'unpopular' political affiliation or for no probable cause at all....'

Whether this was a conscious distortion by the Times of his position, a mis—quote, or cherry—picking for a desired quote, I'll leave for the reader to determine.

Young apparently missed the point:

'This is where Tate gets a tad confused. The Times is reluctant to emphasize concerns about Echelon's abuses, yet it quotes two different reports that emphasize exactly such concerns?'

As I've already noted, the Times article quoted Poole, the author of one of the two reports, in apparent contradiction to the conclusion of his study.

The other report I referred to was a study conducted by the European Union. I said that the Times article referenced, not quoted, the EU report. The Times story said that the EU expressed 'concern' about Echelon and then referred to the study only to describe general activities conducted under Echelon's umbrella. The Times omitted the study's conclusion that the NSA and other intelligence agencies routinely skirted legal restrictions against domestic surveillance.

Ms. Young is correct in pointing out that, Mike Frost, a source used by the 60 Minutes story quoted in my article and whom I called merely 'a former spy', worked for Canadian intelligence. But if she considers that a major flaw, she has ignored a key element of my article. The European Union study of the Echelon program explained that the NSA and intelligence agencies in allied countries routinely circumvented restrictions against domestic surveillance by asking their sister agencies in the other countries to do the spying and provide them the analysis. Thus, a Canadian spy would be likely to listen in on a U.S. conversation and then provide details to the NSA.

The link Ms. Young included to cite that Mr. Frost retired in 1989 is an article from something called 'Peace Researcher' which says 'he hasn't actively spied since about 1990.'

(In your words, Ms. Young, 'Sometimes it helps to check the links before trumpeting a story.') Even though I identified Frost as retired at the time of the 60 Minutes interview, the programs he described were still active—and were likely accelerated—during the Clinton administration, according to the EU study.

Ms. Young then discounts reportage by Insight Magazine that the Clinton administration provided surveillance data to major Democrat party donors because it was 'based on anonymous intelligence sources.'

Doesn't that sound exactly like how the current surveillance story started?

She adds that the Clinton story was  '...not confirmed or pursued anywhere else, as far as I can tell....'

Exactly my point, Ms. Young. The story, apparently, wasn't pursued by the Times or any mainstream outlet. Can you imagine the outcry at the Times if the Bush White House were accused of selling secret intelligence for campaign donations?

(Oh, and by the way, Ms. Young, I have again split a quote. Just as in the instance you cited in my earlier article, it's a literary device that is sometimes helpful when combining quotes with commentary. I'll save you the time and provide your full quote below.

'... a report in Insight magazine, based on anonymous intelligence sources —— and not confirmed or pursued anywhere else, as far as I can tell....'

There. Reads rather the same, doesn't it?)

Ms. Young explains away the difference in coverage of the two stories this way.

'There was also a major difference between the Echelon story and the Bush surveillance story. While it's quite possible that intelligence services under Clinton were abused for domestic spying and surveillance, no one was ever able to prove it. Many of the reports at the time emphasized Echelon's elusiveness....

...Again, there may well have been Clinton—era violations of the ban on domestic surveillance without special authorization. The situation today, however, is markedly different. The Bush administration has openly admitted and defended conducting surveillance of communications between people in the United States and people abroad....'

That's certainly an interesting reason for the Times not to have given Echelon the same scrutiny it's given the current story: it's hard to prove. They won't admit what they're doing. We'll just drop it.

Did the the—dog—ate—my—homework excuse not work?

Ms. Young then concludes her defense of the Times' coverage of Echelon by citing coverage—in the Washington Post, not the Times—in which Clinton era officials assured that all regulations regarding surveillance were being met.  The Bush administration has also maintained that its surveillance is legal. Did the Times just drop that story?

Few who read the Times story about Echelon, buried in the Technology section, could confuse the nature of that coverage with the strident tones used in today's coverage. The coverage back then was nonchalant (incorporating sarcastic humor even, Ms. Young?), whereas today's coverage is, to quote Shakespeare, 'Full of sound and fury, signifying ....'

Oh, and I left off the ellipses to start that quote, too.

William Tate is a writer and researcher and former broadcast journalist. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

When you point out that the emperor has no clothes, you're bound to get an angry reaction from the emperor's court. When the dis—robed monarch is the New York Times, it's likely to come as blowback from the elite Northeast media.

A few days ago in an article posted on The American Thinker, I exposed an example of blatant hypocrisy by the New York Times. That newspaper has led the attack on the Bush administration's domestic surveillance of international communications by individuals with suspected terrorist ties.

I had the temerity to point out that when a far more invasive and intrusive spying operation, called Echelon, was confirmed during the Clinton administration, the Times actually called it 'a necessity.' Rather than a limited number of people—no more than 500 at a given time—affected by the current surveillance, Echelon 'captures and analyzes virtually every phone call, fax, email and telex message sent anywhere in the world,' an independent study found.

My article, gratifyingly, struck a chord with readers and was widely linked on the web and even picked up by some general media, including last Saturday's print and on—line editions of the New York Post. A columnist for the Boston Globe, a newspaper owned by the New York Times, wrote a column on her blog site and is emailing it to other bloggers in an attempt to discredit my article.

The writer, Cathy Young, has every right to voice her criticism. However, I feel compelled to correct some of the flaws in her analysis.

First, Ms. Young does not identify herself in her piece as a columnist for the Globe, although she does so on her website. Neither in her article nor on her website does she acknowledge that the Globe is owned by the New York Times Company. While this fact does not disqualify Ms. Young from commenting on my article, the journalistic principle of full disclosure should have compelled her to divulge this apparent—if not real—conflict of interest. This association could explain some conclusions to which Ms. Young jumps regarding my article.

Some of the criticisms Ms. Young makes are pertinent. Others are picayune. For instance, she accuses me of not using ellipses (...) to start a quote. She's right. I did so, not—as Ms. Young claims—to change the nature of the quote, but as a matter of style.  ...starting a sentence like this, without a capital, has always bothered me stylistically.

Many of the arguments Ms. Young makes to refute my article actually help confirm, totally unintentionally, the thesis of my piece. To support her contention that the Times has treated both surveillance stories similarly, she points to three other Times articles. One, a December, 1999 Times article about Echelon by James Risen, she says

'bore the sarcastic title, 'Don't  Read This; If You Do, They May Have to Kill You.''

Oh, really, Ms. Young? The Times met the Echelon story with sarcasm?

Compare that attempt at humor to the indignation, indeed the outrage, with which the Times and other media outlets have covered the current story. And according to Ms. Young, the Times buried that Risen article in its Week in Review section, far from the front page of the paper. Ms. Young also refers to another 'fairly critical' (her words) article in February, 2000, and, then, a third piece which ran in July of 2000 ... more than a year after the story I cited.

This record doesn't even begin to compare to the coverage they have given the current surveillance story.

Ms. Young also notes that the May, 1999 story I referred to in my article appeared in the Times' Technology section. Not exactly the same above—the—fold, page 1A treatment they've given their current surveillance reports.

Ms. Young states, accurately, that the title of the Times article I quoted from was, "Lawmakers Raise Questions About International Spy Network.'

Compared to the tone of recent coverage, the story might as well have been titled, "Lawmakers Raise Questions About International Spy Network. Yawn.'

The title also reveals that the story was a reaction to public concern already expressed by lawmakers and not the result of aggressive reporting initiated by the Times. Again, compare that to the Times' current coverage and draw your own conclusions.

In my article, I wrote that in calling Echelon a necessity, 'the Times actually defended the existence of Echelon'.


''The Times defended' seems to imply an editorial stance,' Ms. Young objects.

However, I neither stated nor implied that the story was an editorial, a product of the Times Op—Ed page, or anything other than a news article. It is even more relevant and damning that the phrase 'few dispute the necessity of a system like Echelon' was part of news coverage and not an editorial: stating it as a fact of the story and not just opinion.

Ms. Young also accuses me of splitting the following quotation. Yes, I did. I put the second half of the quote in its own separate paragraph rather than burying it. I didn't want it to be ignored by the emphasis I gave the key element. She then combines the two parts of the quote.

'While few dispute the necessity of a system like Echelon to apprehend foreign spies, drug traffickers and terrorists, many are concerned that the system could be abused to collect economic and political information.'

And she concludes: 'Reads rather differently, doesn't it?'

Well, no, it doesn't. The key phrase remains, 'few dispute the necessity of a system like Echelon.' 'Few dispute the necessity' means that the Times says practically everyone, the Times obviously included, agrees that an invasive program like Echelon is necessary; while 'many are concerned that the system could be abused' means that many people—500? 5,000? 10,000?—are concerned that Echelon might at some point in the future be misused ... even though two of the Times' own sources had concluded elsewhere that Echelon was already being abused.

The Times article quoted one of those sources making a statement far different from the conclusion he reached in a report about Echelon. The Times quote read:

"The recent revelations about China's spying activities in the U.S. demonstrates that there is a clear need for electronic monitoring capabilities," said Patrick Poole, a lecturer in government and economics at Bannock Burn College in Franklin, Tenn., who compiled a report on Echelon for the Free Congress Foundation. "But those capabilities can be abused for political or economic purposes so we need to ensure that there is some sort of legislative control over these systems."

Whereas in his report, Poole concluded:

'ECHELON is also being used for purposes well outside its original mission. The regular discovery of domestic surveillance targeted at American civilians for reasons of 'unpopular' political affiliation or for no probable cause at all....'

Whether this was a conscious distortion by the Times of his position, a mis—quote, or cherry—picking for a desired quote, I'll leave for the reader to determine.

Young apparently missed the point:

'This is where Tate gets a tad confused. The Times is reluctant to emphasize concerns about Echelon's abuses, yet it quotes two different reports that emphasize exactly such concerns?'

As I've already noted, the Times article quoted Poole, the author of one of the two reports, in apparent contradiction to the conclusion of his study.

The other report I referred to was a study conducted by the European Union. I said that the Times article referenced, not quoted, the EU report. The Times story said that the EU expressed 'concern' about Echelon and then referred to the study only to describe general activities conducted under Echelon's umbrella. The Times omitted the study's conclusion that the NSA and other intelligence agencies routinely skirted legal restrictions against domestic surveillance.

Ms. Young is correct in pointing out that, Mike Frost, a source used by the 60 Minutes story quoted in my article and whom I called merely 'a former spy', worked for Canadian intelligence. But if she considers that a major flaw, she has ignored a key element of my article. The European Union study of the Echelon program explained that the NSA and intelligence agencies in allied countries routinely circumvented restrictions against domestic surveillance by asking their sister agencies in the other countries to do the spying and provide them the analysis. Thus, a Canadian spy would be likely to listen in on a U.S. conversation and then provide details to the NSA.

The link Ms. Young included to cite that Mr. Frost retired in 1989 is an article from something called 'Peace Researcher' which says 'he hasn't actively spied since about 1990.'

(In your words, Ms. Young, 'Sometimes it helps to check the links before trumpeting a story.') Even though I identified Frost as retired at the time of the 60 Minutes interview, the programs he described were still active—and were likely accelerated—during the Clinton administration, according to the EU study.

Ms. Young then discounts reportage by Insight Magazine that the Clinton administration provided surveillance data to major Democrat party donors because it was 'based on anonymous intelligence sources.'

Doesn't that sound exactly like how the current surveillance story started?

She adds that the Clinton story was  '...not confirmed or pursued anywhere else, as far as I can tell....'

Exactly my point, Ms. Young. The story, apparently, wasn't pursued by the Times or any mainstream outlet. Can you imagine the outcry at the Times if the Bush White House were accused of selling secret intelligence for campaign donations?

(Oh, and by the way, Ms. Young, I have again split a quote. Just as in the instance you cited in my earlier article, it's a literary device that is sometimes helpful when combining quotes with commentary. I'll save you the time and provide your full quote below.

'... a report in Insight magazine, based on anonymous intelligence sources —— and not confirmed or pursued anywhere else, as far as I can tell....'

There. Reads rather the same, doesn't it?)

Ms. Young explains away the difference in coverage of the two stories this way.

'There was also a major difference between the Echelon story and the Bush surveillance story. While it's quite possible that intelligence services under Clinton were abused for domestic spying and surveillance, no one was ever able to prove it. Many of the reports at the time emphasized Echelon's elusiveness....

...Again, there may well have been Clinton—era violations of the ban on domestic surveillance without special authorization. The situation today, however, is markedly different. The Bush administration has openly admitted and defended conducting surveillance of communications between people in the United States and people abroad....'

That's certainly an interesting reason for the Times not to have given Echelon the same scrutiny it's given the current story: it's hard to prove. They won't admit what they're doing. We'll just drop it.

Did the the—dog—ate—my—homework excuse not work?

Ms. Young then concludes her defense of the Times' coverage of Echelon by citing coverage—in the Washington Post, not the Times—in which Clinton era officials assured that all regulations regarding surveillance were being met.  The Bush administration has also maintained that its surveillance is legal. Did the Times just drop that story?

Few who read the Times story about Echelon, buried in the Technology section, could confuse the nature of that coverage with the strident tones used in today's coverage. The coverage back then was nonchalant (incorporating sarcastic humor even, Ms. Young?), whereas today's coverage is, to quote Shakespeare, 'Full of sound and fury, signifying ....'

Oh, and I left off the ellipses to start that quote, too.

William Tate is a writer and researcher and former broadcast journalist. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.