Disclosure of Pressure

Although the jury is still out on the legality of President Bush’s approval of domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency, there is a general consensus emerging within journalist circles that both the New York Times and the Washington Post misbehaved when they failed to reveal that President Bush had summoned representatives from their respective papers to the White House in order to encourage them not to run certain stories that Bush believed would harm national security.

Bush had Times Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., Executive Editor Bill Keller and Times D.C. Bureau Chief Phil Taubman visit on December 5 to dissuade them from running the NSA piece. Prior to Dana Priest’s Nov. 2 story about secret CIA prisons, Bush called in the Post’s Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr..

Editor & Publisher has some reactions from the 4th Estate.

  • “What strikes me is that neither of the papers have reported it,” said John Walcott, Washington bureau chief for Knight Ridder. “They agreed to go into it on White House ground rules that the meetings would be off the record. I don’t know why the papers accepted that condition.”

    Andy Alexander
    , Washington bureau chief for Cox Newspapers, agreed. “You should report it with the story,” he said. “It gets into the agreement you have with the White House as to what you can report.”

    For Jack Germond, a former Washington reporter with The Washington Star and The Sun of Baltimore, it is part of the news. “I was surprised they didn’t report it in this case,” he said of The Post and Times examples. “Why not report it? It is part of the story. You can agree not to discuss the details of the conversation with the president. But the fact that you have such a meeting is not off the record.”