More reporters and editors going to prison?

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on January 6, 2006

Lawyer Scott Johnson over at has an interesting analysis of the law on the New York Times disclosure of the NSA's surveillance program. Johnson makes the case that Times reporters, editors and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., violated federal law in publishing the story and could be prosecuted.

Is the New York Times a law unto itself? In gambling that constitutional immunity protects it from criminal liability for its misconduct, the New York Times appears to me to be bluffing. Those of us who are disinclined to remit the defense of the United States to the judgment of the New York Times must urge the Bush administration to call the Times's bluff.

I've worked for more than a decade in newspapers from small to large and journalists have a responsibility to their readers. I've watched as editors have tortured themselves over whether or not to run a photo of a little African-American boy making a bed because it might reinforce stereotypes (they didn't), or whether or not to run a photo and name a juvenile wanted for murder despite the fact that policy is not to name minors (they did). But those are little issues, and journalists' pride or arrogance that they know it all and can determine whether or not the disclosure of the NSA's surveillance program would hurt national security is flabbergasting. That they would let their hatred for President Bush override their duty and to their readers and the nation is a betrayal of the public trust.

Recall that both executive editor Bill Keller and Sulzberger met with President Bush in the White House and were asked personally not to publish the story. Even after that, they believed that they knew more about national security and the state of the war on terror than the president.

Newspapers are a public trust and have a duty to the public and to the nation. The New York Times has betrayed that. Maybe the only way to ensure that new management takes over the paper is to toss the current management in the slammer. When journalists are forced to take responsibility for their actions, maybe they'll take what they do more seriously.


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January 2006



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