The New York Times' new public editor, Byron Calame, has written an editorial questioning the timing of the NYT's revelation of the top secret NSA surveillance program and why it coincides so closely with a book due to come out by one of the reporters involved, but implicit in Mr. Calame's writing is a disturbing, silent support for the leakers who violated national security and revealed the program.
Taken at face value, Mr. Keller seems to be contending that the sourcing for the eavesdropping article is so intertwined with the decisions about when and what to publish that a full explanation could risk revealing the sources. I have no trouble accepting the importance of confidential sourcing concerns here. The reporters' nearly one dozen confidential sources enabled them to produce a powerful article that I think served the public interest.
It's not Mr. Calame's job or the Times' job to determine what national security secrets should be kept or revealed for the public interest. That's what we elect politicians for, none of whom on either side of the aisle appear to have tried to stop this program.
With confidential sourcing under attack and the reporters digging in the backyards of both intelligence and politics, The Times needs to guard the sources for the eavesdropping article with extra special care. Telling readers the time that the reporters got one specific fact, for instance, could turn out to be a dangling thread of information that the White House or the Justice Department could tug at until it leads them to the source. Indeed, word came Friday that the Justice Department has opened an investigation into the disclosure of classified information about the eavesdropping.
And, needless to say, Mr. Calame and the Times oppose prosecution of these leakers, despite the severity of their crimes. Why? It doesn't take a genius to figure it out: journalists depend on criminals and leakers to get their information so they can make money and get famous.