President Bush today called the New York Times story revealing the administration’s monitoring of bank records “disgraceful,” and said the decision to publish details of the program “does great harm to the United States of America.”
Press Secretary Tony Snow followed up with another attack at today’s press briefing:
[T]he New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public’s right to know in some cases might override somebody’s right to live, and whether in fact the publications of these could place in jeopardy the safety of fellow Americans.
Asked whether the White House attacks on the New York Times represented an effort “to create a chilling effect on media outlets,” Snow responded, “I don’t think so.”
Full transcript below:
SNOW: Well, I’ll tell you what happened is the New York Times clearly was in the lead on this one. It was ahead. And as it was getting ready to publish, other newspapers made inquiries and we asked questions.
But this is one where the New York Times clearly was leading and everybody waited until it posted its piece online to do their own publications.
QUESTION: We’re told the vice president’s going to make similar comments at his appearance today. With the president and the vice president in essence going after the New York Times today, are they trying to create a chilling effect on media outlets that might…
SNOW: I don’t think so. No, I don’t think so. It’s a very good question, though. If the New York Times decides that it is going to try to assume responsibility for determining which classified secrets remain classified and which don’t, it ought to accept some of the obligations of that responsibility. It ought to be able to take the heat as well.
So the administration certainly is going to lay out its concerns and what it may mean for the safety of the American people and the integrity of the process of developing intelligence that can permit us to track down terrorists and prevent them from killing again.
That’s what this is all about. It’s about what we can do in a time of war.
Traditionally in this country in a time of war members of the press have acknowledged that the commander in chief, in the exercise of his powers, sometimes has to do things secretly in order to protect the public. This is a highly unusual departure. It’s interesting; the Times talking about this program having been a departure from previous banking efforts. This is also a departure from the longstanding traditions here in the United States.
So it’s not designed to have a chilling effect. I think if the New York Times wants a spirited debate about it, it’s got it.
But certainly nobody is going to deny First Amendment rights. But the New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public’s right to know in some cases might override somebody’s right to live, and whether in fact the publications of these could place in jeopardy the safety of fellow Americans.