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How Bill Keller, on Leaks, Hurt 'The New York Times'—Past and Present | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

How Bill Keller, on Leaks, Hurt 'The New York Times'—Past and Present


Bill Keller. (Reuters)

The former top New York Times editor Bill Keller continues his embarrassing run as a weekly pundit today, fully endorsing the laughable column by colleague Thomas Friedman last week, which I critiqued at the time. You remember the Friedman opus—quoting at length TV series creator David Simon’s rant (which Simon had partly retracted already).

A desperate Keller cites the popularlty of Friedman at the Times site as evidence that the columnist’s view was popular—even though, I’d bet (thanks to links from Matt Taibbi and others) most who visited came to laugh and mock.

Keller shows his hand when he declares at the outset he only respects the “vigilant attention to real dangers answering overblown rhetoric about theoretical ones.” Of course, all dangers are only theoretical when we don’t know about them, because of undue secrecy. When that emerges, they become all too “real.” This reflects his beloved Friedman/Simon column, which claimed no known abuses of the NSA surveillance. Again: How would we know (until, maybe, now)?

His piece does go on to raise demands for a “well-regulated” surveillance state—but a surveillance state nonetheless. Of course, it’s good that he’s not turning a blind eye—but from his Friedman endorsement, you know where his real sympathies lie. With the state. And let’s not forget his attacks on Julian Assange and criticism of Bradley Manning (not to mention long support for Judy Miller and lampooning of her critics).  Keller has learned so little from the Iraq debacle—which he supported—that he now urges Obama to “get over” that and take strong action vs. Syria.

This comes a day after Margaret Sulllivan, the Times public editor, produced a column revisting the famous incident from 2004 when Keller held, for a year, the first major scoop on NSA spying, by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, at the behest of the Bush administration. Some have held that this cost John Kerry the presidency in 2004, but putting that aside, the real losers were the American people, the press in the US—and the reputaiton of the Times, and Keller.  All you have to do is consider this:

In a 2008 article for Slate, Mr. Lichtblau, who had chafed at the delay, described the surreal scene “as my editors and I waited anxiously in an elegantly appointed sitting room at the White House” to be greeted by officials including the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the White House counsel, Harriet Miers.

Sullivan wasn’t the only one who recalled this embarrassment from years back. Edward Snowden revealed two weeks ago that he didn’t take his NSA leak to the Times specifically because of what happened to Risen and Lichtblau. Instead he went to The Guardian—and the Times’s prime rival, The Washington Post. Now the Times managing editor admits he is sorely disappointed he didn’t get the Snowden leak.

He can thank Keller for that. Bill ought to title his next column on Snowden, “The Spy Who Loathed Me.”

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