New York Times executive editor Bill Keller this morning distributed a statement on the paper's publication of details about the CIA-Treasury Department program of tracing financial transactions by suspected terrorists. (Sampling of reactions: Treasury Secretary John Snow, Media Nation.) Tonight, the Los Angeles Times posted online its own explainer from editor Dean Baquet. He says it was "a tough call" but one supported by historical precedent. His note runs as an op-ed in tomorrow's paper under the headline Why we ran the bank story:
Many readers have been sharply critical of our decision to publish an article Friday on the Treasury Department's program to secretly monitor worldwide money transfers in an effort to track terrorist financing.
They have sent me sincere and powerful expressions of their disappointment in our newspaper, and they deserve an equally thoughtful and honest response.
The decision to publish this article was not one we took lightly. We considered very seriously the government's assertion that these disclosures could cause difficulties for counterterrorism programs. And we weighed that assertion against the fact that there is an intense and ongoing public debate about whether surveillance programs like these pose a serious threat to civil liberties.
We sometimes withhold information when we believe that reporting it would threaten a life. In this case, we believed, based on our talks with many people in the government and on our own reporting, that the information on the Treasury Department's program did not pose that threat. Nor did the government give us any strong evidence that the information would thwart true terrorism inquiries. In fact, a close read of the article shows that some in the government believe that the program is ineffective in fighting terrorism.
In the end, we felt that the legitimate public interest in this program outweighed the potential cost to counterterrorism efforts....
Baquet also responds to partisan critics, writing "We are not out to get the president....But we also have an obligation to cover the government, with its tremendous power, and to offer information about its activities so citizens can make their own decisions. That's the role of the press in our democracy."