Unequivocally, it was not wrong for the New York Times to hire William Kristol as an op-ed columnist. But this article misses on a number of points. The lack of understanding of the value and necessity of a free press on both sides of this spat is as unsurprising as it is disturbing. Both parties are screaming for limiting free speech and that is what we should object to.
The truth is that the Times had a right to publish what it did. The truth is that Kristol had a right to suggest, as he did, that what the Times published was illegal. That the Government classifies the time of day is well known and documented, particularly in this administration. It is ridiculous. On the other hand, the idea that the times would publish something that it was specifically requested not to publish, especially in this regard is arrogant in its own right, but the Times does have a right to publish it. The person who told them about it of course should be prosecuted.
Two things are clear under the law. The Government can have secrets which it is illegal to disclose (does the name Valerie Plame ring a bell?). The press can publish what it finds out. It is not ridiculous that you can not lie in a Crest ad but you can publish a National Secret. The very fact that the Crest ad is unimportant makes it permissible to regulate it just as the very fact that national secrets are important makes it impermissible to regulate their publication by a newspaper. That said there are a number of ways Kristol may be right about prosecution – a newspaper can not induce (by intimidation, or bribery, or deceit) someone to reveal a national secret, they can not send a spy in to discover a national secret, in other words there is a big difference between publication of that which you know or believe and discovery of it.
More importantly there is a major difference between the right to publish and the right to know. The media hides behind the phrase “the public has a right to know.” In fact there is no such right. It is not in the Constitution, it is not even implied any where. People in the media and elsewhere conveniently avoid the distinction. They do so to absolve themselves of the responsibility that arises from the right to publish. The subtle logic is that if the public has a right to know, then the media has an obligation to publish and inform. Nothing could be further from the truth and nothing could be more damaging to the media’s understanding of its responsibilities in exercising the right to publish. The media gets its responsibilities backwards and upside down. The media has a right to publish it is therefore the media’s obligation to be responsible in what it publishes. This responsibility is constantly shirked and avoided.
It is not Kristol’s admonitions that are disturbing. It is the New York Times failure to recognize and at least acknowledge their responsibility in publication. The Times should at least have had a reason more that “the public’s right to know” for publication. Maybe the Government was overstepping its bounds, maybe they were compromising rights more important than national security in the Time’s view. Whatever the reason, it can be judged by the public as to its legitimacy. What is illegitimate is the media hiding behind a right to know. That right does not exist. The media, including the New York Times needs to step up and say “Yes we published these national secrets. We take responsibility for publishing them. We felt it necessary and important to publish them for [insert reason]”
Similarly the Times has an absolute right and, I believe it a good thing, to provide a number of opposing views like Kristol. Whether or not he is extreme or opposed to my views, even about what is legal, I applaud the times for providing his view.