Bill Keller: The Unitary Editor

The unfolding train wreck at the New York Times continues. Executive Editor Bill Keller has demonstrated a truly impressive mastery of the flexible urban viewpoint for which the Times is justly renowned. He argues, at various times, that we should not allow governments to keep secrets, that the decision was “agonizing”, that our friends in the international community (folks like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – if only the Times had gotten a tip on that impending airstrike!) – can only benefit when we allow greater transparency in our secret anti-terror programs.

But nowhere in all this talk of openness and transparency did Mr. Keller find time to mention that the publication of classified information is against the law. And make no mistake: revealing our national secrets is illegal. There is no press exemption. So it would seem there are limits to the public’s right to know, and the knowledge that the Times has repeatedly broken the law is a detail that in Bill Keller’s lofty editorial judgment, we need not be burdened with.

In retrospect, we can sympathize with The Times. With so many contradictory positions to reconcile, life must get extremely confusing. For instance, it would seem transparency is not an unalloyed good. He’s all in favor of transparency for government, but not so keen on openness when it comes to how the Times does business. Fair enough. And even the government, when it suits the media, is allowed to keep some secrets. In the Times’ estimation, the outing of a single “covert” agent is a dangerous national security breach requiring a special prosecutor; even when the charging statute is one the Times itself held to be unconstitutional when it was passed. The outing of entire classified anti-terror programs, on the other hand, is not only safe, but serves the public good!

“How can this be?”, you may be asking yourself. The answer is simple. Bill Keller is a Very Smart Man – so smart that he can be trusted to make major national security decisions without any oversight. He has formulated the Theory of the Unitary Editor, which goes something like this. On the first day of the Constitutional Convention, the Founding Fathers created the New York Times. And they looked upon their creation, and they saw that it was good. And they clearly intended for it to have a tremendous amount of power for, as our Democrat brethren-in-Christ are always reminding us, Thomas Jefferson said it would be better to have a press and no government, didn’t he? So the second day the Framers, via the First Amendment, explicitly created a Fourth Branch of government which operates completely independently of the other three branches. Furthermore, unlike the other three branches, this fourth branch was to be able to violate laws passed by our elected representatives at any time with impunity, since the First Amendment would operate as a virtual trump or “get out of jail free” card. Now this may alarm some of you somewhat, but you should not worry. We the Little People should simply trust that the Times would never abuse this tremendous power, because although the press are not subject to any external oversight or checks and balances, the Founders did provide for an entirely sufficient internal oversight system in the form of Executive Editors. This is where the Theory of the Unitary Editor comes in.

According to the Theory of the Unitary Editor, whenever a Times reporter is given unauthorized classified information, Bill Keller’s editorial conscience allows him to unilaterally declassify national secrets, bypass Congress, and violate the law in the interest of keeping the nation safe from a popularly elected President who he fears may be bypassing Congress and breaking the law.

And the best news of all is that even though the justification for releasing classified information in the first place was that the government was being excessively secretive, it now turns out that the program wasn’t even a secret!

Eric Lichtblau today, on CNN’s Reliable Sources:

“USA Today”, the biggest circulation in the country, the lead story on their front page four days before our story ran was the terrorists know their money is being traced, and they are moving it into—outside of the banking system into unconventional means. It is by no means a secret.

Long-time Times readers must be so relieved, if a bit puzzled. If the information wasn’t secret, what on earth was poor Mr. Keller so agonized about?

And the reaction of Congress does seem to be a bit of a head-scratcher. If this was common knowledge, whence all the screeching? Was the government being secretive or not? If it wasn’t, why maliciously draw unneeded attention to a program that was catching terrorists and those who fund them?

And finally, if this information was in the public domain why didn’t the Times source its story from publicly available sources, and thus make itself immune to criticism?

Undoubtedly in the interest of openness and transparency, Mr. Keller will be forthcoming with the answers in no time. After all, the public has a right to know.

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