How very revealing. Here’s New York Times editor Bill Keller in a long essay for a forthcoming Times book, “Open Secrets: WikiLeaks, War and American Diplomacy: Complete and Expanded Coverage from The New York Times“, talking about his paper’s view on Wikileaks. Apart from the almost obligatory slamming of founder Julian Assange, Keller explains the relationship with the White House and how much he loves America:
The ﬁrst articles in the project, which we called the War Logs, were scheduled to go up on the Web sites of The Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel on Sunday, July 25. We approached the White House days before that to get its reaction to the huge breach of secrecy as well as to specific articles we planned to write — including a major one about Pakistan’s ambiguous role as an American ally. On July 24, the day before the War Logs went live, I attended a farewell party for Roger Cohen, a columnist for The Times and The International Herald Tribune, that was given by Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. A voracious consumer of inside information, Holbrooke had a decent idea of what was coming, and he pulled me away from the crowd to show me the fusillade of cabinet-level e-mail ricocheting through his BlackBerry, thus demonstrating both the frantic anxiety in the administration and, not incidentally, the fact that he was very much in the loop. The Pakistan article, in particular, would complicate his life. But one of Holbrooke’s many gifts was his ability to make pretty good lemonade out of the bitterest lemons; he was already spinning the reports of Pakistani duplicity as leverage he could use to pull the Pakistanis back into closer alignment with American interests. Five months later, when Holbrooke — just 69, and seemingly indestructible — died of a torn aorta, I remembered that evening. And what I remembered best was that he was as excited to be on the cusp of a big story as I was.
Because of the range of the material and the very nature of diplomacy, the embassy cables were bound to be more explosive than the War Logs. Dean Baquet, our Washington bureau chief, gave the White House an early warning on Nov. 19. The following Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, Baquet and two colleagues were invited to a windowless room at the State Department, where they encountered an unsmiling crowd. Representatives from the White House, the State Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the F.B.I. and the Pentagon gathered around a conference table. Others, who never identified themselves, lined the walls. A solitary note-taker tapped away on a computer.
The meeting was off the record, but it is fair to say the mood was tense. Scott Shane, one reporter who participated in the meeting, described “an undertone of suppressed outrage and frustration.”
Subsequent meetings, which soon gave way to daily conference calls, were more businesslike. Before each discussion, our Washington bureau sent over a batch of specific cables that we intended to use in the coming days. They were circulated to regional specialists, who funneled their reactions to a small group at State, who came to our daily conversations with a list of priorities and arguments to back them up. We relayed the government’s concerns, and our own decisions regarding them, to the other news outlets.
The administration’s concerns generally fell into three categories. First was the importance of protecting individuals who had spoken candidly to American diplomats in oppressive countries. We almost always agreed on those and were grateful to the government for pointing out some we overlooked.
“We were all aware of dire stakes for some of the people named in the cables if we failed to obscure their identities,” Shane wrote to me later, recalling the nature of the meetings. Like many of us, Shane has worked in countries where dissent can mean prison or worse. “That sometimes meant not just removing the name but also references to institutions that might give a clue to an identity and sometimes even the dates of conversations, which might be compared with surveillance tapes of an American Embassy to reveal who was visiting the diplomats that day.”
The second category included sensitive American programs, usually related to intelligence. We agreed to withhold some of this information, like a cable describing an intelligence-sharing program that took years to arrange and might be lost if exposed. In other cases, we went away convinced that publication would cause some embarrassment but no real harm.
The third category consisted of cables that disclosed candid comments by and about foreign officials, including heads of state. The State Department feared publication would strain relations with those countries. We were mostly unconvinced.
Although it is our aim to be impartial in our presentation of the news, our attitude toward these issues is far from indifferent. The journalists at The Times have a large and personal stake in the country’s security. We live and work in a city that has been tragically marked as a favorite terrorist target, and in the wake of 9/11 our journalists plunged into the ruins to tell the story of what happened here. Moreover, The Times has nine staff correspondents assigned to the two wars still being waged in the wake of that attack, plus a rotating cast of photographers, visiting writers and scores of local stringers and support staff. They work in this high-risk environment because, while there are many places you can go for opinions about the war, there are few places — and fewer by the day — where you can go to find honest, on-the-scene reporting about what is happening. We take extraordinary precautions to keep them safe, but we have had two of our Iraqi journalists murdered for doing their jobs. We have had four journalists held hostage by the Taliban — two of them for seven months. We had one Afghan journalist killed in a rescue attempt. Last October, while I was in Kabul, we got word that a photographer embedded for us with troops near Kandahar stepped on an improvised mine and lost both his legs.
We are invested in the struggle against murderous extremism in another sense. The virulent hatred espoused by terrorists, judging by their literature, is directed not just against our people and our buildings but also at our values and at our faith in the self-government of an informed electorate. If the freedom of the press makes some Americans uneasy, it is anathema to the ideologists of terror.
So we have no doubts about where our sympathies lie in this clash of values. And yet we cannot let those sympathies transform us into propagandists, even for a system we respect.