The New York Times Fails In Effort To Block Justice Department Investigation
The New York Times is trying once again to convince the public that tipping off alleged terrorist front groups about an upcoming government search somehow falls under the umbrella of “the public’s right to information”.
Lawyers for the newspaper tried unsuccessfully to prevent special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald from reviewing telephone records that could be used in helping the government determine who leaked the classified information to the newspaper in the government’s obstruction of justice investigation.
In a one-sentence order offering no reasoning and noting no dissenting votes, the Supreme Court rejected a request from The Times to stay a lower court’s decision while the paper tried to persuade the high court to review the case.
Today’s order effectively allows the United States attorney in Chicago, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, to begin reviewing the records, which he has already obtained from phone companies, as early as this week.
The Justice Department told the Supreme Court on Friday that Mr. Fitzgerald is under enormous time pressure. “The statute of limitations,” the government said, “will imminently expire on December 3 and 13, 2006, on certain substantive offenses that the grand jury is investigating.”
The grand jury, in Chicago, is looking into who told the two reporters, Judith Miller and Philip Shenon, about actions the government was planning to take in December 2001 against two Islamic charities in Illinois and Texas. The disclosures to the reporters, the government lawyers wrote Friday, may have amounted to obstruction of justice.
In August, a divided three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Manhattan ruled in favor of Mr. Fitzgerald, saying that the reporters were not entitled to shield their sources in the unusual circumstances of the case. The government contended that the reporters had tipped off the charities to the impeding actions against them. The Times said the reporters had engaged only in routine newsgathering.
We would expect the New York Times to approach the story in this manner. Their use of the word routine is supposed to take the spotlight off the fact that the New York Times minimally endangered the lives of federal prosecutors if not the greater public when their Middle East correspondents tipped off Islamic charities about an upcoming government raid. Not to mention the fact that they acted on leaked classified information. This may be routine for the New York Times but it is a serious matter for the United States government.
The New York Times tries to spin public perception of this story further as they report on statements made by Judith Miller and Times lawyer Floyd Abrams.
Today’s decision is the latest in a series of setbacks for the press in the federal courts. “It’s more bad news for the First Amendment,” Ms. Miller said, “and therefore it’s more bad news for the public’s right to know.”
Floyd Abrams, a lawyer for The Times, said the decision was a battle lost in a larger war.
“This case is the latest of a number of skirmishes in an ongoing and far from concluded conflict about the public’s right to information” Mr. Abrams said. “We remain hopeful that in the end, whether in the courts or in Congress, that right will be vindicated.”
Skirmishes? Right to Information? I think not. The statement is a bit ironic for a newspaper that charged the Whitehouse with advancing talking points when Patrick Fitzgerald was reported to be seeking indictments against WH officials in the Valerie Plame case.
Even more ironic is the use of the term “battle lost in a larger war” because that is exactly what it is. The New York Times has repeatedly shown that they have no regard for national security as they routinely publish stories based on leaked classified information; much of it pertinent to national security. This has all been done in the wake of the New York Times’ war against President Bush and they way his elected administration chooses to fight the war on terror.
One final bit of irony can be found in the realization that Patrick Fitzgerald is using the investigatory powers of the Patriot Act to pursue the obstruction of justice case.
Irony aside, what first amendment right does a newspaper have when acting on leaked classified information in their quest to get a scoop? Where is the line drawn between informing the public and causing them harm?
Thankfully we are about to learn the answer to that question courtesy of the man who was going to bring the New York Times “Fitzmas” just a short while back. In the meantime I direct you to read the U.S. Code concerning the Disclosure of Classified Information. It is a quick read and one I am sure that New York Times staffers are getting familiar with at this very moment.
This article is crosposted at Webloggin.