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Special Report Unfair and Biased Show Devoted to NYT Financial Records Story

Reported by Janie - June 27, 2006 -

Yesterday (6/26) the topic du jour on "Special Report with Brit Hume" was the New York Times' article disclosing a potentially illegal program to monitor financial data, which the Administration claims is purely to track terrorism. Sources for said article (of which there were nearly 20) however, claim the program "stirred concerns inside the administration about legal and privacy issues."

The "fair and balanced" approach to telling the story? Telling the Administration's side, the critics of the New York Times side, and asking how the New York Times cam be prosecuted, rather than should the Times even be prosecuted to begin with.

For a little background, the New York Times published a story on Friday (6/23) which disclosed a classified program being used by the Administration to track financial transactions of terrorists (or so claims the Administration). Nearly 20 sources participated in the report, of which some are current Administration officials, all of which have concerns about the legality and privacy precautions of the program. According to the article:

"One person involved in the Swift program estimated that analysts had reviewed international transfers involving 'many thousands' of people or groups in the United States. Two other officials placed the figure in the thousands. Mr. Levey said he could not estimate the number."

With the Administration's history of not being forthcoming with just how affected American citizens are in their terrorist programs, it's clear that this story is of national importance, especially when Administration officials with knowledge of the program are coming forward to the New York Times with their concerns.

Fox refuses to see it this way, and is clearly taking the side of the Administration and Republican party, without even attempting to portray a semblance of objectivity.

Hume opened yesterday's show "Next on Special Report, the President says the revelation of that secret program to track terror money, is a disgrace and that it hurts the nation's security. Other critics say the NYT should be prosecuted. We'll see if that's possible."

Hume begins the entire show by airing his bias - assuming that the Times is guilty (as the Administration would have you believe), and planting that seed into the minds of viewers before expounding on what the Times' story actually was and what it included. Hume is making sure the viewers understand that the Times is guilty before they even know what occurred. Hume then turned to the first report filed by Brett Baier, which could have been written by the Administration themselves, as it only gave their side of the story. Clip after clip during the segment was of Administration officials voicing their opinion of the story. (Transcript follows)

BB: "After meeting at the White House with representatives of organizations that support the US Military, President Bush sharply condemned the exposure of a program that monitors financial transactions of suspected terrorists around the world."

GB (clip): "The disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America. And for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it, does great harm to the United States."

BB: "While other papers ran the story Friday, Administration officials said the NYT had been working on it for more than a month before other reporters got word of the up until then secret program. The program tracks terrorist money transfers by using broad government subpoenas to track into a huge database of financial transactions maintained by a company in Belgium."

Comment: Baier neglects to mention just HOW the other newspapers "got word" of the secret program, as it would tarnish the credibility of this desperately needed argument: The Administration leaked the information to these other papers themselves, to avoid allowing the New York Times to have the scoop. In other words, the Administration leaked classified information out of spite (reminiscent of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson).

GB (clip): "What we're doing is the right thing. Congress was aware of it, and we were within the law to do so."

BB: "The president went on to say the American people expect the government to protect Constitutional liberties while at the same time hunting down terrorists looking to hurt the U.S."

GB (clip): "If you want to figure out what the terrorists are doing, you try to follow their money, and that's exactly what we're doing, and the fact that a newspaper disclosed it makes it harder to win this war on terror."

BB: "The NYT Executive editor Bill Keller wrote a response to what he called questions and concerns about the decision to publish the story. Writing, 'Nobody should think that we made this decision casually, with any animus toward the current Administration, or without fully weighing the issues.'

On discussions with Administration officials who asked the Times not to run the story, Keller said one reason officials gave is that it would lead terrorists to change their tactics, but Keller wrote, '…that argument was made in a half-hearted way. It has been widely reported – indeed, trumpeted by the Treasury Department – that the U.S. makes every effort to track international financing of terror. Terror financiers know this, which is why they have already moved as much as they can to cruder methods.'

The White House spokesman was anything but half hearted in his afternoon press briefing."

Tony Snow (clip): "The NYT decides that it is going to try to assume responsibility for determining which classified secrets remained classified and which don't, it ought to accept some obligations of that responsibility. It ought to be able to take the heat as well."

BB: "In a blunt letter sent to the NYT late this afternoon, Treasury Secretary John Snow writes that Keller's reasoning and charge that the Administration was half-hearted in it's effort to persuade the paper not to publish the story was 'incorrect and offensive'. Pointing to a meeting the Secretary had with Keller in Snow's office, for that explicit purpose. Snow goes on to write that Keller's reasoning for running the story 'betrays a breathtaking arrogance and deep misunderstanding of the financial tracking program.'"

If you'll notice, just about every line was used to advance the Administration's case - with the appropriate clip of an Administration official voicing their opinion. Not once was there any sort of counter balance given towards their arguments.

The very next segment was what Hume promised from the beginning of the show - an entire segment dedicated not to whether the Times should be prosecuted and laying out the evidence in a fair manner, but about HOW the Times can be prosecuted. Hume segued into this story, "So is there a law under which a newspaper of a journalist in the country committed to freedom of the press can be prosecuted for publishing a true story about government secrets? Some people think there is, and one Congressman thought the laws against treason might apply."
(Transcript follows)

Jim Angle: "The anger of the NYT actions is felt well beyond the White House. One member of Congress calls the paper's exposure of a classified program, 'disgraceful and treasonous' and wants the Administration to do more than complain about it."

Comment: A Republican Congressman is considered "way beyond the White House"?

Peter King (R - NY): "I'm calling on the Attorney General to begin a criminal investigation and prosecution of the NYT for it's reporters, the editors who worked on this story and the publisher."

JA: "But even analysts who believed the Times was wrong to publish this story says the only law that applies is the Espionage Act of 1917. "

Gabriel Schoenfeld (a contributor to The National Review and The Weekly Standard): "It's a very tough statute to prosecute newspapers with, there's never been a successful prosecution. In part, because it has intent requirements, it has to show that the newspaper had intent to injure the US, it's very difficult to prove."

David Rivkin: "A very far-fetched possibility. The statute is very broadly drafted, quite archaic. 1917 was a long time ago."

Comment: Fox neglected to mention Rivkin's credentials as a former Republican Administration official with the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations, and has been known in the past to make misleading claims.

JA: "If a source had provided this information directly to Osama Bin Laden, or one of his deputies, that could easily be prosecuted."

GS: "If somebody had provided this information to al Qaeda on a microdot, there would be no question they would be prosecuted for espionage. Here the Times has put it out there for the whole world, including every reading member of Al Qaeda to see, and they're calling it a public service."

JA: "The Times defended the story on the public's right to know. But that does not satisfy the critics."

DR: "Under that standard, nothing is safe. I can see a headline that says tomorrow, 'The US closing in on Bin Laden', you know, he's is two hours a way in a cave. Well, doesn't the public have a right to know? This is insane, it is not the way to win this war."

Comment: First of all - it would be wonderful to see a headline that says we're close to getting Osama Bin Laden, but that isn't going to happen since Bush doesn't really care about pursuing him anymore.

Second, despite what the Bush Administration might believe - getting Bin Laden IS NOT illegal, going through the financial records of American citizens without a warrant just might be.

JA: "Several analysts say Congress may now want to look at how to change the law, to make it easier to prosecute such things, when there is leak after leak, tipping off the terrorists. And even some members of the 9/11 Commission appear to agree that in this case, publication was not justified."

Comment: AHA! It had to be in there somewhere - the entire reason for making such a huge deal about the terrorists finding out America is going after their financial records (if the people running the War on Terror assume the terrorists don't realize we're tracking their financial records - god help us all). The Administration wants a new law to be able to prosecute newspapers on a whim. We all knew there was an ulterior motive, and we now know it's to gain more control over the press which has revealed many of the improper things done by the Administration.

Tim Roemer: "The financial tracking has been approved for the most part by Supreme Court decisions and the courts, that's something that we've known about and is very important to tracking terrorists."

JA: "In fact, 9/11 Commission co-chair Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton had been briefed on the terrorist financing program, and called the NYT and asked them not to run the story, to no avail.

For now, even the critics don't think it's possible to prosecute the NYT, but many do ask what the rationale could possibly be for a newspaper to expose a classified program that is effective against the terrorists when it's own investigation uncovers no wrong doing or legal abuses."

Comment: The paper has not been able to delve that far into the investigation, and is only relying on sources that feel there is some wrongdoing - which is part of journalism, although Fox clearly doesn't understand the term "journalism".

Since this topic was so hot yesterday, it was of course tackled by the "All Star Panel" at the end of the show - who proceeded to provide more misinformation and right-wing talking points.

Fred Barnes: "I wouldn't go that far first. I'll tell you what. Pete King, the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. Why not have hearings? Immediately! Why not call Bill Keller the editor of the NYT, tomorrow? And bring him before and explain, not in the same form as his absolutely absurd and condescending letter that he had in his paper on Sunday defending the decision to run the story about these banking records and how the Administration had used them. But bring him, ask him where'd they get this from? Maybe he doesn't want to name a source, but I would start there and see if you want to have a grand jury investigation. Have him under oath when he comes before the committee. I mean, do that right away, this is a serious problem. There's no telling what classified information the NYT would not be willing to run in the national security area. One of your guests, I think David Shoenfeld, said that if this information had been given directly to Osama Bin Laden, that would have been treason on the part of the person who put it out. But if that person gives it to the NYT and they run it, and Osama Bin Laden reads it, the Times says well, no problem."

Mort Kondracke: "The problem with any kind of a trial here, is not only proving that you have intent to help the enemy, which the NYT presumably didn't, but also it's in the discovery process, proving that this was important to national security might lead to other secrets that are even more valuable to the enemy. It's a no-win proposition. I think that's a good idea – having hearings, but another thing that would be useful – not having President Bush and Tony Snow and John Snow to bear the whole burden of making the case that this was reprehensible, but I would like to hear from John Murtha – if that's what John Murtha thinks, and I would like to hear from Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton and Joe Biden, and everybody else saying that the NYT is ill serving the country and have some pushback on this to make them feel embarrassed…. I think there ought to be a full blown chorus denouncing what they did."

Discussing the New York Times' reasoning for the article,

FB: "Fred Keller did not deal seriously with the national security issue that's involved here, he just sort of dismissed, 'well Al Qaeda probably knows all about this anyway'."

BH: "Well, if that's true though, if Al Qaeda knows all about this, and is aware that there are extensive efforts underway in the banking system to track terrorist financing, then what we have here is details of one of the ways this is being done. Why is that news?"

Comment: There were no clear details of how the program worked, outside of things the terrorists are certainly aware of (and if they aren't, how in God's name have we not won already?), such as wire transfers, etc. The news here is some Administration officials are uncomfortable with the program, and fear American citizens might be getting caught in this broad, warrantless net.

MK: "The only justification I can see in this, is there was quote unquote, 'discomfort' on the part of some of the people involved with this program with the legality of the program. That's what Keller said. One of his reporters was on the radio this morning…"

BH: "He didn't make that argument very vigorously."

MK: "He didn't, and the other argument was 'this was an emergency measure after 9/11, and the question is now, do we still need it in perpetuity'. Which is to say that the NYT has decided that we're not really at war, that this is not a war, it was an emergency back then, but the heats off and so we can go back to living our lives as we used to do, even though Keller said we know that New York is the place that 9/11 happened. I think they've forgotten that New York is the place that 9/11 happened."

Comment: Sadly, Kondracke doesn't know what he's talking about - this was NOT the feeling expressed by the New York Times themselves, but by officials who came forward to disclose the program. According to the article, "Swift executives have been uneasy at times about their secret role, the government and industry officials said. By 2003, the executives told American officials they were considering pulling out of the arrangement, which began as an emergency response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the officials said. Worried about potential legal liability, the Swift executives agreed to continue providing the data only after top officials, including Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, intervened. At that time, new controls were introduced."

The segment moved on shortly thereafter, and this was the final mention of the bank story for yesterday's episode. A few reminders to put this story in perspective:

1. Nixon tried to pull this same stunt with the Pentagon Papers when the New York Times began publishing them. Quotes from Nixon regarding that leak include "...people have gotta be put to the torch for this sort of thing..." and "let's get the son-of-a-bitch in jail." Words that certainly are reminiscent of the battle currently raging.

2. Fox wants to step into muddy waters here by attempting to claim this story somehow helps the terrorists - which is certainly up for debate - but said not one peep when one of their own journalists was expelled from Iraq for literally helping the terrorists - by giving away troop locations. Where was the outrage and apologies then?

3. According to the definition of fascism, one of the 14 characteristics is "Controlled Mass Media", in which "the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common." Sounds precisely like what the Administration and Fox are attempting to do.

Not one dissenting voice was included throughout the entire show, not one single person given a chance to defend the New York Times' actions. The viewers were told the Times was guilty, and proceeded from there clearly showing their pro-Administration bias in each and every segment, revoking the choice of the viewer to determine their stance on their own with clear, fair, facts.