"[T]reason, plain and simple": Right-wing media figures attack NY Times over bank-tracking story

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

Numerous conservative media figures have lashed out at The New York Times and its executive editor, Bill Keller, over an article describing a secret Bush administration program designed to monitor international financial transactions, arguing that the publication of the article was a treasonous act and suggesting that the newspaper is "sid[ing] with al Qaeda" and "aiding and abetting the terrorist movement."

In the wake of a June 23 New York Times article describing a secret Bush administration program designed to monitor international financial transactions, numerous conservative media figures have lashed out at the newspaper and its executive editor, Bill Keller, arguing that the publication of the article was a treasonous act and suggesting that the newspaper is "sid[ing]with al Qaeda," "aiding and abetting the terrorist movement," and "prepared to cripple America in order to go after the president."

Conservatives have directed their vitriol almost entirely at The New York Times, despite the fact that the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) also posted articles on the subject on their web pages on the same day -- June 22 -- as the New York Times, and both published articles on it in their June 23 print editions.

The question of whether the June 23 article -- as well as the Times' prior disclosure of the administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program -- represented acts of treason or qualified as violations of the Espionage Act has been the topic of numerous discussions on the cable news networks in recent days. These debates have taken place under banners such as "Did Media Aid, Abet Enemy?" and "Are 'Scoops' More Important To Media Than Stopping Terror?" On the June 26 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, host Joe Scarborough asked his viewers to take part in an online poll asking, "Should The New York Times be prosecuted for publishing stories revealing secret information about the war on terror? Are they guilty of treason?" Following are examples of those conservative media figures who asserted that Times editors and reporters should be prosecuted for revealing the program's existence:

  • Melanie Morgan, radio talk show host: "I see it as treason, plain and simple, and my advice to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at this point in time is chop-chop, hurry up, let's get these prosecutors fired up and get the subpoenas served, get the indictments going, and get these guys [Keller and The New York Times] behind jail." [MSNBC's Hardball, 6/26/06]
  • Ann Coulter, right-wing pundit: [R]evealing a classified program, which no one thinks violates any laws ... that has led to the capture of various terrorists, and to various terrorist money-laundering operations. If that is not treason, then we're not prosecuting anymore." [MSNBC's Scarborough Country, 6/26/06]
  • William Kristol, editor, The Weekly Standard: "I think the Justice Department has an obligation to consider prosecution. ... This isn't a partisan thing of the Bush administration. This is a U.S. government secret program in a time of war, willfully exposed for no good reason by The New York Times." [Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, 6/25/06]

Many other conservative media figures took to the airwaves to simply bash the Times for purportedly aiding the terrorists and putting American citizens in greater danger:

  • L. Brent Bozell III, president, Media Research Center: "The New York Times needs to be reminded ... that on September 11, 2001, something really awful happened right down the street from the newspaper. ... And the last thing we need is The New York Times aiding and abetting the terrorist movement. And that's exactly what they're doing by divulging these secrets." [Fox News' Fox & Friends, 6/27/06]
  • Rush Limbaugh, syndicated radio host: "I think 80 percent of their subscribers have to be jihadists. If you look at The New York Times and the kind of stories they're leaking and running and the information they're getting, it's clear that they're trying to help the terrorists. They're trying to help the jihadists." Limbaugh added that he thought that "80 percent of their subscribers have to be jihadists." According to the latest circulation statistics, the Times sells more than 690,000 copies of its daily edition, and more than 1.1 million subscribers to its Sunday edition, via home delivery. [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 6/27/06]
  • Andrew McCarthy, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: "Yet again, The New York Times was presented with a simple choice: help protect American national security or help al Qaeda. Yet again, it sided with al Qaeda." ["The Media's War Against the War Continues," National Review Online, 6/23/06]
  • Newt Gingrich, former House speaker (R-GA) and Fox News political analyst: "You would think that The New York Times, located on the same island where the World Trade Center once existed, would have some residual memory of 9-11. You'd think that The New York Times ... would have some sense of survival. ... [M]y sense is that they hate George W. Bush so much that they would be prepared to cripple America in order to go after the president." [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 6/26/06]
  • Michael Barone, U.S. News & World Report senior writer: "Why do they hate us? Why does the Times print stories that put America more at risk of attack? ... We have a press that is at war with an administration, while our country is at war against merciless enemies. The Times is acting like an adolescent kicking the shins of its parents, hoping to make them hurt while confident of remaining safe under their roof. But how safe will we remain when our protection depends on the Times?" ["Why do "they" hate us?" syndicated column, 6/26/06]
  • Morton M. Kondracke, Roll Call executive editor: "And for God's sake, The New York Times ought to look down the street and remember where 9-11 happened. It really happened in New York City, you know? And they act as though it never happened." [Fox News' The Beltway Boys, 6/24/06]
  • Heather McDonald, contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute's City Journal: "By now it's undeniable: The New York Times is a national security threat. So drunk is it on its own power and so antagonistic to the Bush administration that it will expose every classified antiterror program it finds out about, no matter how legal the program, how carefully crafted to safeguard civil liberties, or how vital to protecting American lives." ["National Security Be Damned," The Weekly Standard, July 3 issue]

From the June 24 edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys:

KONDRACKE: And for God's sake, The New York Times ought to look down the street and remember where 9-11 happened. It really happened in New York City, you know? And they act as though it never happened.

From the June 25 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

CHRIS WALLACE (host): Bill, your latest issue of The Weekly Standard raises this question: Should The New York Times be prosecuted? Should it?

KRISTOL: I think the attorney general has an absolute obligation to consider prosecution here. This is not a Bush -- I love the way Bill Keller calls it the Bush administration program. This is a program of the United States government. There's no charge that it's unconstitutional, illegal. There aren't whistleblowers coming forward saying data's being misused. This seems to have been a total sort of vanilla secret program in an ongoing war on terror. This is not the Pentagon Papers, a historical document that was classified where you're probably not going to prosecute people because it's not revealing ongoing operations in a war that has stopped people from killing Americans. They absolutely -- I think the Justice Department has an obligation to consider prosecution, and I think Congress can weigh in here, too, because The New York Times' rhetorical defense is well, we're exposing the Bush administration.

[...]

KRISTOL: This isn't a partisan thing of the Bush administration. This is a U.S. government secret program in a time of war, willfully exposed for no good reason by The New York Times.

From the June 26 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

GINGRICH: You would think that The New York Times, located on the same island where the World Trade Center once existed, would have some residual memory of 9-11. You'd think that The New York Times, in probably the richest -- one of two richest targets in the U.S., along with Washington, D.C. -- would have some sense of survival.

MIKE GALLAGHER (guest co-host): So don't they?

GINGRICH: Instead what you have is --

GALLAGHER: Don't they?

GINGRICH: I think that -- my sense is that they hate George W. Bush so much --

ALAN COLMES (co-host): We're going to pick it up in a moment --

GINGRICH: -- that they would be prepared to cripple America in order to go after the president.

GALLAGHER: Wow.

COLMES: -- like the evidence we've been damaged, if there is any, but we're gonna pick it up in just a moment.

From the June 26 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

CHRIS MATTHEWS (host): Here to pick apart the politics of this story is former presidential candidate Al Sharpton and radio talk show host Melanie Morgan. Melanie, what's the issue here as you see it?

MORGAN: I see it as treason, plain and simple, and my advice to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at this point in time is chop-chop, hurry up, let's get these prosecutors fired up and get the subpoenas served, get the indictments going, and get these guys behind jail.

MATTHEWS: What would be the crime? What's the crime?

MORGAN: Treason. You do not reveal secrets in a time of war. And for what purpose? Bill Keller made some sort of incomprehensible defense on his website of The New York Times' decision to unveil secrets, statewide secrets with this financial data plan. I do not understand what he's talking about. It's something about "Oh, well, the public has a right to know if there's a change of policy." What in the world does that mean? What I do know is that you cannot risk American lives who are fighting overseas at war in order to -- what? -- get a Pulitzer Prize?

[...]

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Melanie -- thanks for coming on, by the way -- but let me ask you, Melanie, do you really mean treason? You mean put them in jail for life?

MORGAN: Yes --

MATTHEWS: I don't know what treason carries as a sanction, but I assume it's -- the penalties are incredibly severe, 20 years perhaps. You are saying to put Bill Keller, the editor of The New York Times --

MORGAN: Yes. Yes.

MATTHEWS: -- and his associates in prison for 20 years?

MORGAN: Absolutely. I absolutely am advocating that. What has happened is shameful. If he was ultimately the one responsible for making the decision to publish --

MATTHEWS: Well, it's his call. What about the NSA [National Security Agency]? Would you do the same in the NSA [warrantless domestic wiretapping] case?

MORGAN: Yes, absolutely I would.

MATTHEWS: You would have put him in jail for 20 years for that?

MORGAN: Yes I would, yes, because when you break the law, you break the law, and the press, the media in this country has got to learn one thing, that they have to operate under the same laws and the same rules and regulations that all the rest of the American citizens do.

From the June 26 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:

SCARBOROUGH: I've got a lot of questions to ask you, but I want to start with our poll question. I'm sure you'll have a quick response to this. Is The New York Times guilty of treason?

COULTER: Oh, the polls -- you don't have the answers yet? You're asking me?

SCARBOROUGH: I'm asking you. Do you think the -- were you voting in a poll tonight --

COULTER: Yes, they are.

SCARBOROUGH: Why?

COULTER: Yes, they've done far less than Ezra Pound or Tokyo Rose did, and they were prosecuted. Ezra Pound went to prison for treason for radio broadcasts not even in this country. He certainly wasn't revealing classified programs to the enemy. He was just giving broadcasts that encouraged the enemy, and he was prosecuted and tried for treason. Unless this country is going to say that, "Oh, well, since Jane Fonda sat on a Viet Cong tank, that's it." We don't prosecute for treason. It's going the way of, you know, antiquated torts like alienation of affection, and it's just something we have on the books but we never prosecute for.

Yes, yes, revealing a classified program, which no one thinks violates any laws, no abuse of power, it's a third-party administrator of these transactions, that has led to from suspected terrorists going and, you know, money laundering, that has led to the capture of various terrorists and to various terrorist money-laundering operations. If that is not treason, then we're not prosecuting anymore.

SCARBOROUGH: All right. Well, I'll tell you what? We'll put you down as a yes.

COULTER: Yes.

From the June 27 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: That could take me right to The New York Times. The New York Times, ladies and gentlemen, is doing everything -- it may as well be published. I think 80 percent of their subscribers have to be jihadists. If you look at The New York Times and the kind of stories they're leaking and running and the information they're getting, it's clear that they're trying to help the terrorists. They're trying to help the jihadists.

[...]

Well, if you want your sleeper cell to sleep safely -- if you want your safe house to be really, really safe, then I suggest you read The New York Times. In fact, I think The New York Times should start running ads and get some jihadists and get some terror members and have them say, [speaking with accent] "I saved my sleeper cell thanks to The New York Times."

From the June 27 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

BOZELL: Again, The New York Times needs to be reminded -- I think they forgot that on September 11, 2001, something really awful happened right down the street from the newspaper. And since then, the United States has been engaged in a global war against these damn terrorists. And the last thing we need is The New York Times aiding and abetting the terrorist movement. And that's exactly what they're doing by divulging these secrets.

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