Public editor reveals New York Times editor decided to hold wiretap story on eve of 2004 presidential election

Published: Saturday August 12, 2006

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"A clearer timeline emerges for the paper's scoop on wiretapping," New York Times public editor Byron Calame will be revealing in a column slated for Sunday's edition, RAW STORY has found.

Executive editor Bill Keller tells the paper's ombudmsman that "internal discussions" about publishing a story on domestic wiretapping by the National Security Agency ended up "dragging on for weeks" before the November 2nd, 2004 election.

"The climactic discussion about whether to publish was right on the eve of the election," Keller tells Calame.

In January, Calame complained that he had encountered "unusual difficulty" in trying to determine when exactly the paper learned of the surveillance that hadn't been properly approved by Congress.

"The New York Times's explanation of its decision to report, after what it said was a one-year delay, that the National Security Agency is eavesdropping domestically without court-approved warrants was woefully inadequate," wrote Calame. "And I have had unusual difficulty getting a better explanation for readers, despite the paper's repeated pledges of greater transparency."

"For the first time since I became public editor, the executive editor and the publisher have declined to respond to my requests for information about news-related decision-making," Calame continued in January.

"If Times editors hoped the brief mention of the one-year delay and the omitted sensitive information would assure readers that great caution had been exercised in publishing the article, I think they miscalculated," Calame wrote.

Keller wouldn't answer specific questions posed by Calame in January but calling it "old business" agreed to speak about the delay on the record with his public editor just recently.

According to Keller, after holding multiple "pre-election discussions" with managing editor Jill Abramson, Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman, editor Rebecca Corbett, and often reporter James Risen, he alone made the final decision to "hold" the article.

Calame writes that Keller's explanation for why he didn't okay the article to be published until December of 2005 "cast some new light on the pre-election situation for me."

"We now had some new people who could in no way be characterized as disgruntled bureaucrats or war-on-terror doves saying we should publish," Keller explained. "That was a big deal."

"So why did the Dec. 16 article say The Times had 'delayed publication for a year,' specifically ruling out the possibility that the story had been held prior to the Nov. 2 election?" Calame asks Keller.

"It was probably inelegant wording," Keller responded. "I donít know what was in my head at the time."

"Given the importance of this otherwise outstanding article on warrantless eavesdropping ó and now the confirmation of pre-election decisions to delay publication ó The Times owes it to readers to set the official record straight," Calame concludes.