Last weekend, I wrote here about the history of US government attempts to suppress information. My case study was the Kennedy Administration’s successful effort to delay publication of the New York Times‘ story about CIA planning for the Bay of Pigs disaster. (Since then, several generations of Times editors have publicly regretted that decision. “Our biggest failures,” Executive Editor Bill Keller wrote last year, “have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough or to report fully enough. After the Times played down its advance knowledge of the Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy reportedly said he wished we had published what we knew and perhaps prevented a fiasco.”)
Yet in these last two days, the Times has acceded to Bush Administration requests to withhold information from the American public.
In yesterday’s edition, the paper of record reports that it was “asked to withhold any mention of [Cheney’s] trip until he had left Pakistan.” What conceivable national security purpose was served by swearing the press pool to secrecy about this trip? And doesn’t accepting these ground rules play into the hands of a hyper-secretive Vice-President whose signature contribution to our security has been misleading us into a disastrous war and carpet bombing our constitutional system? The secrecy does expose a national security problem: the “war” on terror is a rank failure and Pakistan is not the stable country that White House talking points try to sell us.
Here’s another instance of White House pressure. A front page article in Monday’s New York Times –providing conditional evidence of Iranian weapons in Iraq–acknowledges that the paper acceded to Bush Administration requests that it withhold specific details about the weapons. As the Times reported: “In the course of the detailed briefing on the Hilla discovery, Maj. Marty Weber, an explosives expert, said that most of the E.F.P.s in Iraq use C-4 plastic explosive manufactured in Iran. At the request of the Bush Administration, The Times is withholding some specific details about the weapons to protect intelligence sources and methods.”
Hours after the story appeared, Congressman Dennis Kucinich issued a statement — “The New York Times Plays into Bush Administration’s Hand.” “The White House,” Kucinich says, “is up to its old scams again: Providing information by anonymous sources ….. This time, however, they added another trick to their bag: providing the information and prohibiting the Times from publishing it…..The New York Times should not print unsourced, unattributed assertions and then voluntarily hide the details from the American public…” The paper, he went on to argue, “is playing into the Administration’s hand and providing further justification for an attack on Iran.”