Don't Follow the Money Story

As someone who spent most of his adult life as a journalist, much of it covering national security affairs, I find the decision of The New York Times and other newspapers to publish the story about the Administration's money-tracing program to be really irresponsible.

The fault does not lie with the reporters. It's their job to find out such things. The fault lies with the editors who put what they perceive as their own self-interest or the interest of their newspaper ahead of the national interest.

Where was the so-called "public interest?" There was no compelling need for the public to know about this. The story itself acknowledged there was nothing illegal going on--only an anonymous acknowledgement that there was a "potential" for abuse.

This was show-off journalism, pure and simple. Look at us. Look at what we found out. Look at how good we are uncovering secrets.

Several years ago, The New York Times ran a front-page story about American submarines secretly spying on Soviet ships and ports, a program code-named HOLYSTONE. The public didn't need to know this. The only beneficiaries were the Soviets. This was an earlier case of disclosure for the sake of disclosure.

Most reporters covering national security affairs eventually come across very sensitive issues. But having a hammer doesn't mean that every story is a nail.

After the take-over of the American Embassy in Iran in 1979, I found out that six American diplomats had escaped and were at large somewhere in Teheran. The Executive Editor at NBC Nightly News wanted to run the story, but fortunately, management was more sensible, and we did not report the story at the time. As someone pointed out, it would have been like giving Anne Frank's address to the Nazis.

Running the story about the money-tracing program is a version of giving Anne Frank's address to the Nazis.