Frank Rich in 'NYT' Defends Newspapers, Rips 'Treason' in Washington
By E&P Staff
Published: May 13, 2006 10:45 PM ET
In his Sunday opinion column for The New York Times, Frank Rich, who returned from book leave just last week, shook off the cobwebs to launch a vigorous defense of newspapers -- and an attack on the real "traitors," including top officials.
Rich opens by recalling charges of treason against the late New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal when he published the Pentagon Papers in 1971. "Today we know who the real traitors were: the officials who squandered American blood and treasure on an ill-considered war and then tried to cover up their lies and mistakes," Rich observes.
Now history is repeating itself, as the Bush administration and its defenders "are desperate to deflect blame" for the Iraq fiasco, "and, guess what, the traitors once again are The Times and The Post. This time the newspapers committed the crime of exposing warrantless spying on Americans by the National Security Agency (The Times) and the C.I.A.'s secret 'black site' Eastern European prisons (The Post). Aping the Nixon template, the current White House tried to stop both papers from publishing and when that failed impugned their patriotism....
"When reporters at both papers were awarded Pulitzer Prizes last month, administration surrogates, led by bloviator in chief William Bennett, called for them to be charged under the 1917 Espionage Act.
"We can see this charade for what it is: a Hail Mary pass by the leaders who bungled a war and want to change the subject to the journalists who caught them in the act. What really angers the White House and its defenders about both the Post and Times scoops are not the legal questions the stories raise about unregulated gulags and unconstitutional domestic snooping, but the unmasking of yet more administration failures in a war effort riddled with ineptitude. It's the recklessness at the top of our government, not the press's exposure of it, that has truly aided the enemy, put American lives at risk and potentially sabotaged national security. That's where the buck stops, and if there's to be a witch hunt for traitors, that's where it should begin."
Rich also suggests that perhaps the recently exposed NSA database on phone records "may have more to do with monitoring 'traitors' like reporters and leakers than with tracking terrorists. Journalists and whistle-blowers who relay such government blunders are easily defended against the charge of treason. It's often those who make the accusations we should be most worried about. Mr. Goss, a particularly vivid example, should not escape into retirement unexamined. He was so inept that an overzealous witch hunter might mistake him for a Qaeda double agent."
He closes with a denunciation of Gen. Michael Hayden for new CIA chief, based on his leadership at NSA. "If Democrats — and, for that matter, Republicans — let a president with a Nixonesque approval rating install yet another second-rate sycophant at yet another security agency, even one as diminished as the C.I.A.," Rich declares, "someone should charge those senators with treason, too. "