Exerpt from Time Magazine artical
Jill Abramson led a panel discussion in Washington. She told the audience that the NSA story “may very well turn out to be this generation’s Pentagon Papers” and recalled A. M. Rosenthal, the legendary executive editor of the Times who published the story and died in May, as an aggressive hero of journalism, “a gutsy, larger-than-life character, an editor perfectly matched to the historic moment.”
Was Bill Keller also a man perfectly matched to his historic moment? When I ask her this question, Abramson pauses. “I want to think about it,” she says. Not because she doubts it, she emphasizes, but because she wants to draw up the perfect response.
Sitting next to Abramson at the Pentagon Papers panel was reporter James Risen. In the fall of 2004, Risen had brought a massive scoop to his editors: Beginning in the days after September 11, he discovered, the Bush administration had authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on foreign calls into the United States without court-approved warrants.
When the Times first approached the White House with the story that fall, Taubman took the lead editorial role, beginning a series of meetings with Bush officials. General Hayden, the NSA director, took him on a personal tour of the agency’s headquarters and tried to impress upon him the importance of its secret programs. Taubman also met personally with then–national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, a close friend of his for more than twenty years. Six months before the 2004 election, Taubman had thrown a lavish dinner party for Rice at his house in Washington.
Shortly after Taubman was briefed by the Bush administration, Keller himself met with Rice, Hayden, and others. “I think they were shocked they were having to share this with journalists,” Keller recalls. But, sitting on a potentially explosive piece of news that could tip the presidential election to John Kerry, Keller was persuaded by the administration’s counterarguments and decided against publishing Risen’s revelations.
Asked recently if there was a defining piece of evidence that affected his decision to hold the story then, Keller said no, then took a deep breath and added, “The argument they made was that, even though it may seem obvious to us that they’re going to try to eavesdrop on terrorists’ phone calls, the behavior of terrorists suggested that it wasn’t obvious to them. Therefore, publishing the story would change their behavior.”
In a long, explanatory e-mail he sent me, Keller says the issue of the legality of the NSA program had not been the thrust of the original story—at least, not that he recalls. “Perhaps [the legality of the wiretaps] should have struck me earlier, perhaps it was clear to the reporters,” he writes. “In its original incarnation, I saw it as essentially a story about the methodology of counter terrorism.” In other words, Keller maintains that he did not originally grasp what the reporters considered the essence of their scoop.
The fact that the Times was suffering from a profound lack of institutional confidence also contributed to the decision to hold the story. On October 25, 2004, the Times reported on unsecured munitions left after the invasion of Iraq and was promptly slammed by the Bush administration, which vigorously questioned the story’s accuracy and scared editors so bad that Abramson worried she was going to be the next Mary Mapes, the producer of the flawed CBS News report on Bush’s National Guard service. When a Minnesota TV station broadcast video that proved the munitions story, Keller told a friend, “Thank God for that.”
New York Magazine
The United States of America vs. Bill Keller
How hard is it to be executive editor of the New York Times today? The White House calls him a traitor. He gets roasted every day on talk shows and blogs. The newsroom is losing faith. The paper is shrinking. And the worst part is that fighting back means overcoming his own nature.
* By Joe Hagan
Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, sat on a couch in the Oval Office of the White House, three feet from President George W. Bush, and listened.
For a meeting without historical precedent, the president of the United States had called the Times to the White House to personally try to prevent a state secret from appearing in print—an exposé of the National Security Agency’s efforts to monitor phone calls without court-approved warrants that the Times had held back on for over a year. Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. sat in a wing chair facing Bush, while Keller and Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman sat across from Bush’s lawyer, Harriet Miers, and national-security adviser Stephen Hadley. General Michael Hayden, the then-director of the National Security Agency, sat alongside Bush with a thick briefing book in his lap.
After stiff pleasantries, Bush issued an emphatic warning: If they revealed the secret program to the public and there was another terrorist attack on American soil, the Paper of Record would be implicated. “The basic message,” recalls Keller, “was, ‘You’ll have blood on your hands.’ ”
The meeting lasted an hour. Afterward, Sulzberger and Keller stood outside the White House. Undaunted by the president’s logic and his threats, Keller told Sulzberger, “Nothing I heard in there changed my mind.” Sulzberger agreed.
Eleven days after the meeting with Bush, the Times defied the president; the story, by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, was headlined bush lets u.s. spy on callers without courts. That same day, the USA Patriot Act was blocked in the Senate.
The White House went into attack mode. Its target: Bill Keller and the New York Times.
State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,' by James Risen
Spies and Spymasters
Review by WALTER ISAACSON
Published: February 5, 2006
THIS explosive little book opens with a scene that is at once amazing and yet not surprising: President Bush angrily hanging up the phone on his father, who ''was disturbed that his son was allowing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and a cadre of neoconservative ideologues to exert broad influence over foreign policy.'' The colorful anecdote is symptomatic of ''State of War.'' It is riveting, anonymously sourced and feels slightly overdramatized, but it has the odious smell of truth.