Despite blasting NY Times for bank monitoring story, conservative media figures mum on unwanted media exposure of alleged NYC terror plot

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

Many of the same media conservatives who continually attacked The New York Times for publishing details of the Treasury Department's bank-tracking program have remained silent about the New York Daily News' decision to report that FBI officials thwarted an alleged terrorist plot in New York City, despite apparent objections from intelligence and law enforcement officials that the disclosure impeded further arrests.

Many of the same media conservatives who issued countless attacks on The New York Times for reporting -- against the Bush administration's wishes -- a Treasury Department program designed to monitor international financial transactions, have remained mum about the New York Daily News' decision to report that FBI officials thwarted an alleged terrorist plot aimed at New York City -- while touting the administration's actions -- despite apparent objections from intelligence and law enforcement officials that the disclosure impeded further arrests.

On July 7, the Daily News reported on the arrest of Assem Hammoud (also known as Amir Andalousli) for allegedly conspiring to bomb the Holland Tunnel in New York City with the hopes of flooding the city's Financial District. Hammoud was arrested in Beirut, Lebanon. In its report, the Daily News noted that upon his arrest, "[t]he Lebanese government had been expected to release a statement about Andalousli's arrest but was asked by the U.S. to hold off while operations to disrupt the plot continued." In a July 7 press conference, FBI assistant director Mark J. Mershon clarified that Hammoud allegedly plotted with other would-be terrorists to, as the Los Angeles Times reported, "blow up commuter train tunnels beneath the Hudson River that connect Lower Manhattan and New Jersey." As the Los Angeles Times noted, during the press conference, Mershon criticized the disclosure of Hammoud's arrest, reporting "that authorities had not planned to disclose Hammoud's arrest or other elements of the plot disruption, and that the unwanted publicity had 'greatly complicated' efforts to catch the five remaining fugitives."

Yet, despite criticizing The New York Times for reporting -- in some cases singling out The New York Times even though the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal also ran first-day stories -- the Bush administration's bank-tracking efforts, many of the same conservatives have remained silent on the Daily News' decision to report on Hammoud's arrest. In fact, several have even touted the actions of the FBI in foiling the purported plot, while simultaneously attacking The New York Times, never noting that intelligence and law enforcement officials objected to the release of information on Hammoud's arrest. For instance:

  • Fox News host Brian Kilmeade: On the July 10 broadcast of Fox News' Fox and Friends, Kilmeade praised Hammoud's arrest, agreeing with co-host Steve Doocy's assertion that "[t]his is a big win." Kilmeade dismissed reports that the alleged Holland Tunnel plot was in its planning phase and concurred with Doocy's mocking prediction that "we're going to read about the secret program that discovered this guy tomorrow in The New York Times." Previously, as Media Matters noted, Kilmeade advocated for an "Office of Censorship" in the wake of reports in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal detailing the Treasury Department's bank-tracking program. Neither Kilmeade nor Doocy mentioned the New York Daily News, which broke the story of the purported Holland Tunnel plot.
  • Right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin: Malkin, who also heavily criticized The New York Times' decision to report on the Treasury Department's financial monitoring program, has thus far not criticized the Daily News over its report on Hammoud's arrest. On her weblog, Malkin noted Hammoud's arrest in a July 8 posting, but she has not mentioned any intelligence concerns over the disclosure. Instead, Malkin has devoted time to "follow[ing] up on the damage the blabbermouth NYTimes has done to terrorism-financing investigation" by promoting a July 10 protest outside The New York Times' New York City offices. As Media Matters has noted, Malkin has previously denounced The New York Times, writing in a June 27 column: "The New York Times (proudly publishing all the secrets unfit to spill since 9/11) and their reckless anonymous sources (come out, come out, you cowards) tipped off terrorists to America's efforts to track their financial activities."
  • Syndicated columnist and Fox News host Cal Thomas: During the July 8 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Watch, Thomas continued to go after The New York Times and the paper's reporting on the so-called "war on terror." Thomas accused the Times of being "hypocritical" for publishing stories about various secret Bush administration programs because the paper "is so adamant in defending its secret sources." During the segment, which focused on the media's handling of terrorism issues, Thomas mentioned the alleged Holland Tunnel plot, without mentioning federal law enforcement's purported concerns over its disclosure. Additionally, in his July 11 column, Thomas used Hammoud's arrest as an opportunity to attack The New York Times, writing: "Thank goodness The New York Times didn't get wind of this and publish it prematurely. Had they revealed the investigation and the attack [on New York City] subsequently came, a Times editorial would probably have criticized the Bush administration for failing to prevent it."

Media Matters has previously documented other media conservatives attacking The New York Times over its reporting of Bush administration terrorism-related intelligence programs, such as right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, radio host Melanie Morgan, the editors of National Review, The Wall Street Journal editorial board, Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke, and others. Thus far, none has similarly criticized the Daily News.

From the July 10 broadcast of Fox News' Fox and Friends:

KILMEADE: Yeah, and -- but they never find out who sets these wildfires, and they always happen. And then, some people even say --

DOOCY: A lot of it's lightning.

KILMEADE: A lot of it's lightning, and they say, it just happens by nature. But in this arrest in particular: 13 members in the cell; five more being sought. He [Hammoud] was arrested in April, and they found out about it because they found, on his computer, all this information. And, then he said, "You got me." And in the chat -- at one point, we have to give some credit to our intelligence services who are combing these chat rooms and all these Al Qaeda and these Islamic sites.

E.D. HILL (co-host): Absolutely.

KILMEADE: Everyone wants to blame, and sure enough, when they got the Miami cell, they say, "OK, look, it's no big deal. Those guys weren't far along." They get this guy -- going, "He's not that dangerous." Please. For a second, look at this guy and look at his potential.

DOOCY: This is a big win, and I'm sure we're going to read about the secret program that discovered this guy tomorrow in The New York Times.

KILMEADE: Yeah.

DOOCY: We do know some other details, and this may be plowed ground 'cause I was busy last week, but apparently, the plan was to have a bunch of people on the trains wearing suicide belts or some sort of backpack bombs, set them off while they're under the Hudson River, and then kill so many people and flood lower Manhattan. I don't know if that would actually happen. Apparently, it was only in the planning stages, and they had not yet purchased any explosives.

From the July 8 edition of the Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Watch:

THOMAS: Well, I think with this anniversary of the London subway and bus bombings -- we'll start with the British media -- they -- there is a growing -- are a growing number of columnists, especially in the British media, people like [Daily Mail (London) columnist] Melanie Phillips and [Chicago Sun-Times columnist] Mark Steyn, who are speaking to government more directly than I've seen in the British press for some time about this clear and present danger in the U.K. New tapes have come out this week, on the anniversary of -- of that. We see, as you just mentioned, the -- the threat exposed against the Holland Tunnel.

There is this tension in the West between the civil libertarians and the people who believe that there is innate good in everybody, and the growing evidence that there is innate evil in somebodies that has to be dealt with. And we're seeing that more and more in the British press and a little bit more in the American press. And that's a good thing, I think.

[...]

NEAL GABLER (media writer): The New York Times doesn't beat up on Bush too much. Remember [New York Times reporter] Elisabeth Bumiller?

Look, this is not a security issue. So, let's get that - not for the administration, and not for The New York Times. This is an issue about executive power. The New York Times thinks the executive has accrued too much power; Bush wants to accrue as much power as he possibly can. Unless The New York Times can redefine the issue that way, they're going to lose this -- this media battle.

THOMAS: Keller's only going on those programs where he's going to get sympathetic treatment. You couldn't get him on a Fox show. You couldn't get him on a lot of talk radio shows. That's number one.

Number two, The New York Times is so adamant in defending its secret sources, you -- you can't get them to reveal anything. They had [former New York Times reporter] Judith Miller who went to prison for this. They've had other reporters get in legal trouble because of this. So, it's a little hypocritical to be talking about the secrecy of the administration when The New York Times is secretive about its sources.

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