Within days of the September 11th attacks, the head of Reuters' worldwide news division, explaining the agency's refusal to use the word 'terrorist,' made the famous fatuous remark that 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.'
Reuters, it seemed, wouldn't be taking sides in America's war on Islamic jihad, because as journalists, Reuters didn't believe the American people and our allies are any 'better' than our putrid enemies. Such is the repulsive state of the 'moral equivalence' mongers in what passes for news journalism, even among those in the profession who are privileged to be United States citizens (among journalists, the Reuters quotation wasn't condemned — it was repeated).
As repulsive as Reuters' rhetoric was, those words alone didn't hurt anyone. Since then, though, as the war on terrorism has been waged, journalists have increasingly moved from rhetoric to deliberate and outward anti—American action, with real consequences to the well—being of the American people. The so—called 'paper of record,' the New York Times, is leading journalism's descent, and has repeatedly placed its disgust for the Bush administration and, purportedly, its journalistic 'objectivity,' above the security prerogatives of the American people.
Last December, the Times spurned a request by the Bush administration to keep the federal wiretapping program confidential, opting instead to expose it for jihadists to peruse. Why? Because Times editors hoped the program would 'get legs' as a scandal for the Bush administration, the kind the Times and its 'drive—by media' cohorts have been anxious to pin on the President since he—in their warped view—'stole the election.' Any concern the Times might have had about compromising a crucial anti—terror program placed a distant second to its bash—Bush lust.
Soon after the wiretapping story broke, it became clear that the Times' strategy had backfired. A majority of Americans recognized the program for what it is—an important tool in tracking down jihadists in our midst, and a legitimate use of power during a perilous time in America's history. Despite the President's bad poll numbers, the public wasn't as feverishly anti—Bush as the Times had banked on, and like so many other stories aimed to take down our President, the wiretapping scoop died with a pathetic whimper.
Evidently, though, the Times remains not only blind to its own detachment from reality but hell—bent on subverting America's self—defense against Islamic jihadism. On Friday, it dealt another blow to American intelligence—gathering and gift—wrapped another windfall for jihadists, this time running a story that details the federal government's classified 'SWIFT' program, which monitors international banking activities of suspected Al Qaeda associates. Like the wiretapping program, which even the Times acknowledged was once the government's 'most closely guarded secret,' SWIFT is considered 'extremely valuable' to the feds because of its 'awesome' ability to sift through mind—numbing financial data to track down jihadists and those who bankroll them — it is a 'mother lode' of intelligence data, and it's been a success. But none of this matters to the Times, which chirped that familiar and self—serving 'potential for abuse' sing—song. In other words, Friday's story is the same, tired old non—story of executive 'abuse of power.'
We don't need a federal law to know that what the Times has done is wrong, and the Times will again be disappointed when it discovers the majority of Americans recognize the need to remain on war footing, even if this means occasionally offending civil libertarians.
In another era, the New York Times' marginalization (and falling circulation) might be punishment enough for having become an anti—Americans shill. But if we're truly fighting a 'war' on Islamic jihad, and if President Bush expects the American people to remain steadfast in fighting it, then his Administration must not let the Times continue to disregard the law. Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917 specifically to punish the kind of subversive acts in which the Times engaged by exposing the wiretapping and SWIFT programs. Among other things, the Act makes it a crime, essentially, to aid the success of America's enemies. It is a law forged in wartime that recognizes wartime imperatives, and it's an exceptionally sensible precaution for a free—speaking country on a long—term defense footing.
Last month, after the wiretap story had wilted and died, Attorney General Gonzales suggested on a Sunday talk show that the 1917 Act can, in the interest of national security, be used to prosecute journalists who disclose classified information. The very next day, the Times story that reported the Gonzales interview claimed journalists are not subject to the Act. Incredibly, the paper seems to believe journalists can ignore the Act, precisely because they are journalists. (On what grounds? Because the Times says so.)
Especially after yesterday's disclosure, it is almost as though the Times is taunting Gonzales — based, I suppose, on a hunch the Bush administration doesn't have the political will to indict the paper.
Like many Americans, I am simply nauseated that the New York Times claims immunity from the law in order to splash morning headlines with a memo to jihadists explaining how to evade detection by America's secret defense programs. It's not my place here to interpret the Espionage Act. I realize, too, that it's not yet been used to prosecute journalists.
But laws are advocated, and interpreted, in light of the exigencies of the day, and especially where national defense is at issue, they must be aggressively enforced and tested at critical times. With the cancer of Islamic jihad metastasizing around the U.S., this is very much such a time, and I believe the Justice Department should aggressively seek to protect America's interests, like any lawyer is bound to do for a client, and pursue an indictment of the New York Times and those responsible for violating the law.
Bill Lalor is an attorney in New York City and publisher of Citizen Journal