Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

NY Times: “All the news (and false information) the government wants us to print”

leave a comment »

The NY Times, once the pre-eminent paper of record, is rapidly becoming a government-run paper, with Times editors running whatever stories the government wants them to, true or false, no questions asked. They have to protect their access to government officials, see, and that means they must do the bidding of government officials, including cover-ups as requested.

Amy Davidson, a senior editor at the New Yorker, has a good piece on this, which begins:

The column by the Timess Public Editor, Arthur Brisbane, on the case of Raymond Davis—the man who reportedly had some connection to the C.I.A. and is now in Pakistani custody after killing two policemen who, he has said, he thought were thieves—is genuinely puzzling. The Times reported last week that it had kept silent about Davis’s C.I.A. connection. Brisbane attempted to explain why. Here are the key passages:

The Times jumped on the story, but on Feb. 8, the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, contacted the executive editor, Bill Keller, with a request. “He was asking us not to speculate, or to recycle charges in the Pakistani press,” Mr. Keller said. “His concern was that the letters C-I-A in an article in the NYT, even as speculation, would be taken as authoritative and would be a red flag in Pakistan.”Mr. Crowley told me the United States was concerned about Mr. Davis’s safety while in Pakistani custody. The American government hoped to avoid inflaming Pakistani opinion and to create “as constructive an atmosphere as possible” while working to resolve the diplomatic crisis.

The Times acceded to the Obama Administration’s wishes, as did the Washington Post and the A.P. Brisbane concludes that “the Times did the only thing it could do,” even though “in practice, this meant its stories contained material that, in the cold light of retrospect, seems very misleading.” So the “only thing” the Times could do was be “misleading”? That question contains a lot of sub-questions. Here are some:

1. What was the risk to Davis, exactly? He is in the custody of Pakistan, one of our allies. It is not like he’s being held hostage in a cave somewhere, or on the run. One suggestion, laid out in the Post, is that a prison guard might have killed him out of anger; the Post mentions that other prisoners had, in fact, been killed by guards in the facility he was held in. Were those prisoners also working for the C.I.A.? (Or whatever agency Davis was affiliated with, as an “operative” or a contractor—his exact status is still not clear.) There was rage, maybe even life-threatening rage, at Davis in Pakistan even when the U.S. was pretending he was an ordinary diplomat—pulling out a Glock on the streets of Lahore and shooting two people, then claiming immunity, will do that. He was burned in effigy before the Times used “the letters C-I-A.” One could just as easily argue that news that the American media covered up for Davis would make the Pakistani public even madder, and less willing to trust American justice and intentions, encouraging vigilantes.

(In any event, after the Guardian went with the story, the Administration told the Times that it needed twenty-four hours to get the Pakistanis to put him in a safer facility; if it took the Guardian story to persuade the Pakistanis, could one in the Times have facilitated a move weeks earlier?)

Or is the idea that the attacker wouldn’t be a rogue guard, but an Pakistani government operative sent to take him out, or maybe torture him for intelligence? There are a couple of problems with that: (a) the Pakistani government, if not the public, seems to have known who Davis was without American newspapers telling it; and (b) if we think that Pakistani security services torture or kill people because they are C.I.A. operatives, then why are we giving them so much taxpayer money?

Or would the story endanger his safety because it would undermine a claim to diplomatic immunity, exposing him to years in a Pakistani prison (not so good for one’s health) or even capital punishment? If so, does that count as a good reason? I am not sure of the points of international law here, and have read conflicting assertions about what Davis’s standing was, and exactly what sort of immunity he might have been eligible for. I also am not sure of the penalty for double murder in Pakistan. But if Davis isn’t entitled to diplomatic immunity then he isn’t entitled to diplomatic immunity. Do we believe that it’s the role of newspapers to pretend that he is, if he isn’t—to help the government make legally and factually false claims? (Is the press asked to suppress damaging details in cases of Americans charged with murders abroad who aren’t C.I.A. operatives?) And wouldn’t doing so endanger actual diplomats whose claims would, in the future, be treated with greater skepticism?

Maybe the danger was not to Davis but to the C.I.A.’s ability to operate with impunity within Pakistan. But that’s not the argument Brisbane presents, and has its own problems. (Is it the job of newspapers to create “as constructive an atmosphere as possible” for anything the government wants to do?) Anyway, the damage had been done by the incident itself; it was really a matter of making sense of the wreckage. And Davis was not arrested for spying but for killing people recklessly; the widow of one, an eighteen-year old, killed herself. Do journalists need, at the cost of their credibility, to deny these people’s survivors a day in court?

Maybe the Administration had good answers, and a better explanation of the danger to Davis; but those answers weren’t in the Times.

2. Who was the intended audience, or, rather, non-audience, for the silence? Put differently, who was this supposed to be kidding? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2011 at 2:25 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: