Today’s Washington Post contains a review of Necessary Secrets, Gabriel Schoenfeld’s new book about (to borrow from its subtitle) national security, the media, and the rule of law. Schoenfeld argues for holding journalists accountable when they violate the law to the detriment of our national security. I’m happy that the Post elected to review, rather than ignore, this important book.
The review is by Leonard Downie, Jr., who was the Post’s executive editor until 2008. Downie is obviously uneasy with Schoenfeld’s view that editors and reporters at the New York Times should be prosecuted and imprisoned for revealing two of the Bush administration’s antiterrorism programs – the warrantless intercept program for monitoring calls to the U.S. by foreign terrorists and the program though which the international financial transactions of terrorists were secretly tracked.
Downie concedes, however, that Schoenfeld has a case:
Schoenfeld forcefully argues, with deeply researched and closely reasoned legal and historical justifications, that publication of those stories violated espionage laws.
He agrees, moreover, that “if jouranlists or news organizations knowingly break the law, they can be held accountable just as any other citizen or institution can be.” Downie’s use of the word “can” rather than “should” seems be based on his respect for the seriousness with which he says the Washington Post treated national security concerns, and his sense that Schoenfeld is “antipathetic” to the New York Times. Neither consideration seems particularly relevant to whether Bill Keller and his crew should be prosecuted.
I concur, though, with Downie’s overal verdict on Necessary Secrets:
[T]he weight of [Schoenfeld's] scholarship, the timeliness of its publication and the audacity of its argument make it essential reading for anyone seriously interested national security and freedom of the press in these testing times.
SCOTT adds: The Post jumped the gun on the publication date of Schoenfeld’s book by a few days. We will have Schoenfeld’s account of the book posted here first thing on May 24.