Friday, December 30, 2005

2006: Bin Laden Remains Free

In our 3rd prediction for 2006:

  • Osama bin Laden remains free in Pakistan, while the USA directs its manhunt for American peace activists, environmentalists, artists, and "radical librarians".

On a related story from this week, see below for how the New York Times suppressed until after the national elections their story about how the Bush admin has a new policy to leave Bin Laden alone, because capturing him would cause too much trouble in Pakistan where he lives.

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by Cenk Uygur

James Risen, the same New York Times reporter who broke the NSA story, also broke a story on where Osama bin Laden is hiding about a year ago. He wrote the story on Osama's sanctuary -- northern Pakistan, in case you were wondering -- for the December 13, 2004 issue of the Times. When we interviewed him a couple of weeks later on The Young Turks, he told us that he had held the potentially explosive story until after the election.

Risen told us, "I wanted to do it after the election. I didn't want to get caught up in the politics of it."

That story could have been politically damaging to the Bush administration before the November election because it contained government sources saying we had made a conscious decision not to pursue Osama bin Laden more actively (for some understandable though debatable reasons, you can listen to the whole interview here). After the election, the story was nearly ignored, perhaps ironically because people thought it made no difference after an election that confirmed we were going to continue with the same strategy as before.

Now, one has to wonder if Jim Risen and the New York Times made a similar decision about the NSA story. As you read Risen's quote about the earlier story, consider if the same thoughts might have run through his head on the spying piece as well:

"I thought that since we wrote this after the election, that it wouldn't be so politicized, that people might look at it more objectively. And that's why I was hoping -- that's one reason I wanted to do it after the election. I didn't want to get caught up in the politics of it."

If the New York Times is holding stories until after elections on a regular basis, we have to question if that's a wise policy. It's imperative that citizens who are about to vote have all the information at their disposal. If a media organization is purposely holding back critical information that can help voters decide who they want to be their leader, one has to wonder if they are neglecting their duty to their readers and fellow citizens.

Not running a story is just as important, and just as political, as running a story. It puts the newspaper in the role of kingmaker, deciding what the people should and should not hear. I was under the impression that their role was to deliver all the news that's fit to print. If they have a story that is well sourced and that they believe in, and they hold it because they don't want to run a politically damaging story, they are making a decision that is inherently political. That decision is driven not by the merit of the story, but by politics. It makes no difference if the NYT was concerned that they would be accused of being political -- the decision was still guided by political considerations, rather than news considerations.

This seems to me to be dangerous. I think we should have an honest debate about whether the New York Times has become too political, perhaps ironically in an effort to be less political.


At 2:56 PM, Blogger Renegade Eye said...

I found this blog surfing.

Your post was powerful and interesting.

Happy New Years!

At 4:44 AM, Blogger Mike Golby said...

E, I recently commented on an extract from Risen's book, State of War, published in the Guardian, wherein he details a CIA plan delivering Iran the Bomb and Bush his reason to build Green Zone II in Teheran. Officially, no denials have been forthcoming and I drew much the same conclusion as you ("Why torpedo the guy duped into arguing your case for you?") in that I gave Risen the benefit of doubt. Should I have done so? The guy's helped Bush to a second term and now offers him cause to nuke Iran. More damningly—so it seems, he works for the NYT. I can't but feel the Times has become a federal mouthpiece entrenching GOP power and preparing a naive global audience for a future it doesn't want.

At 3:24 PM, Blogger E. Heroux said...

Thanks for yer comment -- I haven't read Risen's book, but what you describe there is frighteningly like the CIA's traditional modus operandi.
The Risen case does raise an interesting media situation -- why is one reporter allowed access to the secret state, the publication of which nevertheless serves ironically to reinforce that secret state? I might tentatively name this situation "paradoxical propaganda".
--E. Heroux


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