Centrifugal Separation

On Tuesday the Wall Street Journal published a letter—to—the—editor by Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times. Mr. Keller had written to respond to the Journal editorial, "Our Rotten IntelligenCIA,"dated April 26th. That editorial had roundly criticized CIA agents who had leaked classified information to the press as well as both the Times and Washington Post for having published Pulitzer—winning stories based on that same information.

If Mr. Keller intended to rebut that editorial's arguments, he appears to have fallen considerably short. However, this appears to be not entirely unintentional. For Mr. Keller opens with the statement:

Most American newspapers, including yours and mine, try hard to separate the curiosity—driven world of reporters and editors from the ideology—driven world of editorial writers and columnists. The news and opinion departments operate under separate management, and they play by different rules. When editors like me disagree with our counterparts in opinion—land, we tend to keep it to ourselves.

So, from the very beginning we are dutifully informed that we will be adventuring in the Times' twin fantasy kingdoms of 'Curiosity World' and 'Opinion Land' — the latter apparently also known in publishing inner sanctums as 'Ideology World.' Such creative descriptions, one would think, are best left to the Disney organization, but if facts in support of one's position are in short supply, then it's best to make the best of the entertainment angle. Call this the Sesame Street approach to journalism.

Mr. Keller's description of newspaper editorials and opinion columns as being ideology—drive is most revealing. For this construct immediately uncouples such journalistic endeavors from any fact—based reality, thus granting editors and opinion writers total freedom to be creative when working in Opinion Land.

This does not, of course, imply that facts are entirely irrelevant to opinion pieces. Some contact with the real world must be maintained as, at least in the case of most writers, opinion is not to be created entirely out of thin air. This is most often accomplished by including enough facts supportive of one's 'argument' to lend to it at least a modicum of plausibility while concurrently leaving out anything to the contrary. One might call this the 'assert and ignore' technique, as Mr. Keller herein illustrates:

Your editorial posits a conspiracy between journalists and "a cabal of partisan bureaucrats" to undermine President Bush by sabotaging the war on terror. Among the suspects swept up and summarily convicted in your argument are: a) government officials who have disclosed secret doings of the government (with the exception of President Bush, whose leak—authorizing somehow escapes your notice)....

Entirely left out is any mention of the fact that Mr. Bush is an elected official and the official with final authority to declassify or 'leak' whatever he may please. One may question whether or not in any specific instance his so doing was prudent. However, POTUS is not a civil servant who has signed a contract and taken an oath promising not to reveal to unauthorized persons classified information over which one does not have declassification authority. Period. The juxtaposition is telling. The President did it. So why shouldn't the CIA personnel who leaked the NSA warrantless intercept and secret European prisons for terrorists stories? Mr. Keller seems to think he's got a solid 'gotcha' here but the unmentioned sinks the argument. Additionally, the Plamegate leak, to which one assumes Mr. Keller refers, turns out to have not revealed any 'secret doings of the government' after all.

Mr. Keller then snickers at the Journal's assessment that the CIA leakers' motives were somehow less than pure:

I leave to others, including the court of public opinion, whether the government officials who spoke to reporters about secrets that troubled them were partisan evildoers, as the Journal contends, or conscientious public servants, or something more complicated. Since most of them, including the nearly a dozen who were cited in the first warrantless eavesdropping story, have not been publicly identified, it's hard to know how the Journal is so certain of their motives.

Here, Mr. Keller's use of the word 'certain' is very telling. If one reads the editorial, as one must assume that Mr. Keller did, it seems not very 'hard' at all to understand how the Journal is 'convinced' of the leakers' motives. The revelations that led to the intercept and prison stories did not benefit the nation in general nor liberate any civil rights—deprived citizen in particular. On the contrary. Because of the European prison revelations, the degree to which other nations are willing to cooperate with U.S. anti—terrorist activities may have been diminished by our inability to keep secret what they prefer not be public.

Even more telling is the revelation of the NSA's warrantless intercept program. The targets for these intercepts were definitely persons of national security interest, whether U.S. citizens or not. The program was directly authorized and periodically reviewed by the President himself. And, this is most important, the leadership of both parties in both houses of Congress as well as the ranking members of both parties of both the Senate and House intelligence committees were kept fully informed. For four years.

This group included Nancy Pelosi while she was a member of the House intelligence committee and later as House minority leader. She knew from right after 9/11 that these activities were taking place.

If the President's authorization of the warrantless intercepts was such an egregious violation of civil liberties, such a frightening usurpation of power, and a wanton trashing of the Constitution, where the hell was Ms. Pelosi and why didn't she or another member of the 'loyal opposition' step into the breech and stop this mad dash towards totalitarianism? Mr. Keller doesn't say. Nor does he mention any attempts by the CIA leakers to avail themselves of the official means of reporting inappropriate activity by government officials that was part of the whistleblower legislation the Honorable Ms. Pelosi helped pass back in the '90s when Mr. Clinton was President.

Once one considers a few more of the 'facts' surrounding the CIA 'leaks' one does come away with a pretty solid conviction that these revelations were not done for the purest of intentions. But facts aren't the foundation of Ideology World. The centrifugal separation of facts into those fractions that are useful and those to be discarded is better known as 'spin.' The spin cycle follows the rinse cycle which removes the heaviest particles of unwanted fact. To finish the load all it then takes is for someone like Mr. Keller to fluff dry.