New York Times Public Editor Byron Calame agrees that the refusal to answer a single question about the spy story is "woefully inadequate."
I e-mailed a list of 28 questions to Bill Keller, the executive editor, on Dec. 19, three days after the article appeared. He promptly declined to respond to them. I then sent the same questions to Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, who also declined to respond. They held out no hope for a fuller explanation in the future.
With the top Times people involved in the final decisions refusing to talk and urging everyone else to remain silent, it seemed clear to me that chasing various editors and reporters probably would yield mostly anonymous comments that the ultimate decision-makers would not confirm or deny.
Keller's response to me: "There is really no way to have a full discussion of the back story without talking about when and how we knew what we knew, and we can't do that."
Telling readers the time that the reporters got one specific fact, for instance, could turn out to be a dangling thread of information that the White House or the Justice Department could tug at until it leads them to the source. Indeed, word came Friday that the Justice Department has opened an investigation into the disclosure of classified information about the eavesdropping.
The most obvious and troublesome omission in the explanation was the failure to address whether The Times knew about the eavesdropping operation before the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election. That point was hard to ignore when the explanation in the article referred rather vaguely to having "delayed publication for a year." To me, this language means the article was fully confirmed and ready to publish a year ago - after perhaps weeks of reporting on the initial tip - and then was delayed.
Mr. Keller dealt directly with the timing of the initial tip in his later statements. The eavesdropping information "first became known to Times reporters" a year ago, he said. These two different descriptions of the article's status in the general vicinity of Election Day last year leave me puzzled.
It's all so clear now. Someone with higher security clearance than they ever should have been given decided to drop an October Surprise to upset Bush. (You don't suppose that person would be a Democrat, do you?) The New York Times had the good sense not to play that game, but who is the source with a high level understanding of Presidential use of NSA? What were their motives? Did they commit a crime? Treason? You don't suppose it's...
But in the months that followed, Mr. Keller said, "we developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program" and "it became clear those questions loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood."
The publication of Mr. Risen's book, with its discussion of the eavesdropping operation, was scheduled for mid-January - but has now been moved up to Tuesday.
A NYT reporter can go outside the control of his newspaper and editor to write a book on anonymous sources he evidently vets himself and then the book will be used to write countless hundreds of other stories in various magazines and newspapers including his own? Well that's crafty.
If the New York Times were a plane, would you fly in it? Why do United States newspapers continue to serve this sausage without knowing what went into it?
2006 is the year to break up with the Gray Lady.