Saturday, July 01, 2006

Baquet. Keller Combine To Make A Cogent Argument

Dean Baquet, the editor of the Los Angeles Times, and Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, shared a rare joint byline on both papers' Op-Ed pages this Saturday to discuss the controversy over their printing of articles that reveal classified information in the War on Terror.

This was a far more satisfactory presentation than Baquet had made a few days ago, when he made the statement, "We are not out to get the President." That was just a little like Richard Nixon saying, "I am not a crook."

I may not agree with exactly where the two newspapers have drawn the line. I felt the stories on tracking international financial transactions for the War on Terror were not a good idea.

But it is clear we have a free press in this country and these editors are taking responsibility for their decisions. This morning, they have outlined their policies in the joint article and it should be welcomed by all men and women of good will.

What I particularly liked about the article was that Baquet and Keller told about certain instances when they have decided not to publish classified information.

For instance, they said, they do not publish certain details of military moves in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Our reporters," they write, "take great care not to divulge operational intelligence in their news reports, knowing that in this wired age, it could be seen and used by insurgents."

Also, I appreciate this clarification: "Make no mistake, journalists have a large and personal stake in the country's security. We live and work in cities that have been tragically marked as terrorist targets. Reporters and photographers from both of our papers braved the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center to convey the horror to the world. We have correspondents today alongside troops on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others risk their lives in a quest to understand the terrorist threat; Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal was murdered on such a mission. We and the people who work for us, are not neutral in the struggle against terrorism."

At the same time, Baquet and Keller argued compellingly that the founding and enduring principles of the nation leave to editors the final decisions on what and what not to print.

This was a major statement in the controversy over certain recent stories in both newspapers. There can be no question that the two editors have been acting in good faith, even though some of us may disagree with some of their specific decisions.

I'm glad, too, to see Baquet appear twice on the editorial pages within a week. I think Times editorial policy would be better were he to assume final responsibility for these pages.

Also, as a Californian and longtime employee of the L.A. Times, it was gratifying to see the L.A. Times right up there in this article on the same plane as the New York Times. I hope Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons paid some attention to that. Thank goodness, the editor of the mediocre Chicago Tribune did not appear with them.

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