The New York Times then and now

Sunday’s New York Times Book Review featured Henry Kissinger’s laudatory review of the new biography of Bismarck by Penn’s Jonathan Steinberg on page one. On my copy of the Times Book Review , however, Kissinger’s name as the reviewer was missing on page one. The curious reader had to scout out the table of contents on page 3 or the contributor’s tag on page 10 to ascertain that the review was by Kissinger.
The Times has posted a correction explaining what happened: “Because of a production error, a review on the cover of the Book Review, about Bismarck: A Life, by Jonathan Steinberg, omits the byline in some copies.” Lest we think anything was amiss, the Times added: “As noted in the table of contents and in the contributor’s biographical note, the review is by Henry A. Kissinger.”
I did wonder whether the error might not have been of the Freudian variety. Kissinger devotes a memorable passage (pages 293-295) of the first volume of his memoirs to the Times‘s editorial criticism of the Nixon administration’s efforts to end the Vietnam war. Was this someone’s subtle payback?
In his memoirs Kissinger noted that in 1969 “the Times regularly called for American concessions when the other side seemed conciliatory, in order, it was explained, to seize the opportunity for peace. It also called for concessions, however, when the other side was intensifying the war, in that case because the Communist step-up had demonstrated that our military effort could never bring peace.”
And that wasn’t all. The Times‘s “calls for even further American concessions were regularly explained by the argument that the United States had a special obligation to prove its good faith to the other side and to abandon the quest for military victory.” Kissinger drily commented with a satirical touch: “No such obligation was discovered for the other side.” He called the Times‘s evolving editorial opinion “a vivid example of how our critics could rarely be satisfied for long, even by the adoption of their own proposals” (emphasis in original, footnotes omitted).
When the Times exposed the National Security Agency’s al Qaeda eavesdropping program in 2005 and then the Treasury Department’s SWIFT terrorist financial monitoring program in 2006, something similar happened. The Times offered up a series of shifting rationales to support the publication of these articles. The rationales culminated in Times reporter Eric Lichtblau’s assertion that the SWIFT article was “above all else an interesting yarn about the administration’s extraordinary efforts since 9/11 to stop another terrorist attack.” In his book Necessary Secrets, Gabriel Schoenfeld characterizes this as “the peculiar culmination” of the Times’s shifting rationales.
Schoenfeld and others, myself included, argued that the publication of these articles was both harmful and violative of the espionage laws of the United States. In his book Schoenfeld argues that Times executive editor Bill Keller should have been prosecuted.
Ever since his book came out last year Schoenfeld has been wondering what Keller thought about his proposal, especially since a dog-eared copy of Schoenfeld’s book had been spotted prominently displayed on Keller’s coffee table. In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Keller finally satisfied Schoenfeld’s curiosity. After inviting Schoenfeld over for a discussion of the issues, Keller responded to Schoenfeld in the column “Secrecy in shreds.” Keller writes:

For The Times’s international-banking article, Schoenfeld tells me he would have favored a conviction — to clearly establish the government’s right to use the Espionage Act — and a symbolic fine. To give leakers pause, he says, the government should assert its power but not overdo it.
Well, phew! But Schoenfeld has more faith in the government’s restraint than I do. Sometimes a little clarity is a dangerous thing.

One senses a certain lack of seriousness in Keller’s reflections. Here my friend David Horowitz provides a telling contrast. David is, among other things, the former editor of the late radical magazine Ramparts. In Radical Son, Horowitz recounts an incident involving the magazine’s 1972 receipt of a draft article by a pseudonymous National Security Agency employee. In the article, the NSA employee revealed that the agency had cracked the Soviet intelligence code and could read Soviet electronic communications at will.
In his autobiography Horowitz looked back and characterized his involvement in the publication of the article in Ramparts as “the most shameful or humiliating thing I ever did.” David’s judgment applies to to Keller as well, even if he doesn’t know it yet.


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