On Fox News' Journal Editorial Report, Marvin Kalb described a Wall Street Journal editorial as "dead wrong" for criticizing The New York Times and defending the Journal over their reports on a U.S. program designed to monitor international financial transactions. Kalb, who is a senior fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, told Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot: "I think you declared war on another American newspaper without due cause. It is mean. It is mean-spirited."
"[D]ead wrong" was how Marvin Kalb described a June 30 editorial in The Wall Street Journal criticizing The New York Times and defending the Journal for their June 23 articles detailing a U.S. program designed to monitor international financial transactions. Kalb made his comments to Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot during a discussion on the July 8 edition of Fox News' Journal Editorial Report, which Gigot hosts. Kalb told Gigot: "I think you declared war on another American newspaper without due cause. It is mean. It is mean-spirited." Kalb later added: "I don't know that you have a right, on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, which was also fed this story by the government, to accuse the Times of treason. That's terrible."
The June 30 editorial, titled "Fit and Unfit to Print," purported to distinguish the Times' June 23 article from the Journal's (subscription only), as well as the circumstances under which they were written. But, as Media Matters for America has noted, there appears to be no relevant basis for differentiating the two reports. While the Times noted experts' legal and privacy concerns and the Journal did not, both articles revealed nearly identical details about how the financial surveillance program operated -- the basis for critics' allegations that the Times report threatens national security.
Nonetheless, in defending the Journal's decision to publish the story, Gigot claimed that the Journal article on the bank-tracking program does not "make that leap of faith and say, which The New York Times has said, that they think in fact the terrorists already knew it. We are not omniscient. That's what the Times is saying." Kalb responded: "No, no, no. ... You don't have to be a particular genius to figure this out -- the terrorists themselves must know. It is the oldest rule of journalism and terrorism: Follow the money."
Kalb and Gigot also discussed the genesis of the Journal's story, on which the Journal's editorial appeared to contradict itself. As Media Matters noted, while the editorial suggested that the Journal published its report on the bank-tracking program as a result of the Bush administration's approaching the paper with information about the program after the Times had said that the story was "going to become public anyway," the editorial also mentioned that the Journal reporter had been "working the terror finance beat for some time, including asking questions about the operations of Swift [the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication ]." Thus, the editorial also seemed to be suggesting that the Journal had been pursuing a story on the financial surveillance program before the administration approached the paper.
From the July 8 edition of Fox News' Journal Editorial Report:
KALB: I think that the story that The New York Times broke is one of those that you end up 49-51, "Do I go with it, or do I sit on it?"
My own feeling is that The New York Times did the right thing by going with the story. In that sense, I disagree with the senator [John McCain (R-AZ), who has said the bank-tracking program should not have been reported], most respectfully.
I do believe, however, that if I were the editor of the Times, a very unlikely prospect, I would have gone with the story in a different way. Not with all of the detail on the finances, but by focusing on another major activity of the administration without sufficient consultation with the Congress and possibly -- although not necessarily in this case -- in some violation of the law itself.
GIGOT: Well, but nobody since that story has broken has said this has violated the law. I mean, there hasn't been.
KALB: No, that's true.
GIGOT: And John McCain and others -- [Rep.] Jack Murtha, in fact, asked the Times not to publish it -- the Democrat from Pennsylvania.
GIGOT: So there is no assertion here that Congress wasn't adequately informed.
KALB: I think that the assertion was made by The New York Times, by the L.A. Times, by your own newspaper, and The Washington Post, all of whom ran this story.
And what they said was that there was very limited -- very limited consultation with the Congress. Only after the administration knew that the Times was going to go with the story were all of the people on the relevant committees informed.
I think that the editorial that you ran, Paul -- and I say this, as you know, with total respect for you as a journalist -- I think was dead wrong. I think you declared war on another American newspaper without due cause. It is mean. It is mean-spirited.
GIGOT: What we want to know is -- what I've heard from many people, many of our readers is, what is the public interest that was served in disclosing this story? Why did we have to undermine a program that really worked effectively to track terror financing? What specific interest was served?
KALB: Well, number one, I don't know about the undermining of the program. I don't know enough about secret details and all of that. I don't have access to that. And I don't think you do either, by the way. But I think --
GIGOT: No, absolutely not. But we don't make that leap of faith and say, which The New York Times has said, that they think in fact the terrorists already knew it. We are not omniscient. That's what the Times is saying.
KALB: No, no, no. But, Paul, I think what the Times said -- and everybody has said, and you don't have to be a particular genius to figure this out -- the terrorists themselves must know. It is the oldest rule of journalism and terrorism: Follow the money.
So if they are going -- if they know about that, they are going to be very careful about the way in which they send money through regular banking channels. We know from newspaper stories, including those in The Wall Street Journal, that the terrorists themselves are going outside of this established channel to do it in different ways. Hand-carrying money. That sort of thing.
GIGOT: But the --
KALB: So in other words, I don't know that you have a right, on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, which was also fed this story by the government --
GIGOT: We were not fed the story. The news side -- the news side was fed it.
KALB: -- to accuse the Times of treason. That's terrible.
GIGOT: The news side of the Journal was given the story because they didn't like -- they wanted to affect the way that this story was portrayed. We were trying to answer --
KALB: You said that --
GIGOT: We were trying to answer --
KALB: Paul, you said that there would be a straighter account.
KALB: A straighter story written by Glenn Simpson.
GIGOT: I think that that's what --
KALB: What does that mean? That he's going to do it uncritically? I don't think so.
GIGOT: Well, he didn't do it uncritically. He did it straightforwardly.