Both Republican and Democrat administrations in the decades before Sept. 11, 2001, have been criticized for viewing Islamic terrorism -- from the Iranian hostage-taking to the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon to the USS Cole attack -- as a law enforcement issue. When government officials talked about "bringing people to justice," they meant trying them in a court of law, not forcing them to explain themselves directly to the creator.
Sept. 11, 2001, was supposed to have changed all of that -- and for many Americans it did.
You'd think that the editors and reporters at The New York Times would be among those for whom the world changed. After all, their offices are just a stone's throw from the site where nearly 3,000 people died. They ran brief obituaries of the victims of that tragic day for a year. There's still a huge hole in the ground where two of the world's tallest skyscrapers once stood.
However, it's become painfully obvious in the past year that the Times doesn't really believe that we're in a war. Today the Times -- followed by newspapers across the nation -- revealed the existence of a program by the United States to track -- and halt --terrorist financing.
The Bush administration has made no secret of its campaign to disrupt terrorist financing, and President Bush, Treasury officials and others have spoken publicly about those efforts. Administration officials, however, asked The New York Times not to publish this article, saying that disclosure of the Swift program could jeopardize its effectiveness. They also enlisted several current and former officials, both Democrat and Republican, to vouch for its value.
Bill Keller, the newspaper's executive editor, said: "We have listened closely to the administration's arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration. We remain convinced that the administration's extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest."
Well, Bill Keller is not my president. However, the Times editor apparently he thinks that he is in a better position to judge the necessity of classified programs than democratically elected representatives.
Frankly, Keller's position only makes sense if he believes that we are not at war and what the Times is revealing is nothing more than law enforcement methods.
We've had a "war on drugs" for decades, and newspapers commonly report on the methods used to catch smugglers, dealers and users.
We've had the "war on poverty" since the '60s, and newspapers report on all the government programs designed to eliminate poverty.
If the war on terrorism is viewed through a similar worldview, then what the Times has done today is nothing more than fulfilling it's duty as a public watchdog.
Of course this isn't the "war on drugs" or the "war on poverty." This is World War IV and it is no stretch to imagine that the Times' decision to reveal classified intelligence programs will eventually lead directly to the deaths of American citizens -- maybe even Times subscribers.
This sort of thing needs to stop -- and it will stop when James Risen, Eric Lichtblau, Bill Keller and "Pinch" Sulzberger have spent some quality time with Randy "Duke" Cunningham in the federal pen.
The media used to know which side they were on. When Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, the men in the brig were freed when a bomb knocked down a wall. Their response was to man anti-aircraft an anti-aircraft gun. The Times instead tries to direct the attacking Japanese to the nearby tank farm holding millions of gallons of fuel.
The media has a responsibility to the public, and during times of war that responsibility includes not revealing secrets that are saving lives.
It won't be popular, and the media will scream like stuck pigs, but the Bush administration needs to prosecute not only the leakers, but the media who choose to facilitate them. If the media believes that it is acting on principle, then they should have no problem spending quality time in prison.