NYT justifies ‘withholding Davis’ CIA link information at Obama administration’s plea’

Sunday, February 27, 2011

WASHINGTON - The New York Times as well as some other US newspapers had ‘withheld information’ about double murder-accused Raymond Davis’ ties to the Central Intelligence Agency “at the request of the Obama administration,” misleading their readers and also damaging their credibility in the process.

“The New York Times had agreed to temporarily withhold information about Mr. Davis’s ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk. Several foreign news organizations have disclosed some aspects of Mr. Davis’s work with the CIA,” admitted the paper in its story on Monday after “American officials lifted their request to withhold publication.”

In his bid to justify this, the paper’s public editor Arthur Brisbane put forward his explanation by saying: “As profoundly unpalatable as it is, I think the Times did the only thing it could do.”

“Agreeing to the State Department’s request was a decision bound to bring down an avalanche of criticism and, even worse, impose serious constraints on The Times’s journalism. The alternative, though, was to take the risk that reporting the C.I.A. connection would, as warned, lead to Mr. Davis’s death,” he added.

Brisbane argued that while there is a calculus that balances the loss of life against the gain of an objective in military affairs, there is no equivalent in journalism, and editors “don’t have the standing to make a judgment that a story - any story - is worth a life.”

“I find it hard to second-guess the editors’ assessment that the State Department’s warning was credible and that Mr. Davis’s life was at risk in a country seething with anti-American feeling,” he added.

Brisbane acknowledged that the constraint played havoc with news coverage, and revealed that for nearly two weeks, “The Times tried to report on the Davis affair while sealing off the C.I.A connection. In practice, this meant its stories contained material that, in the cold light of retrospect, seems very misleading.”

Giving an example from a February 11 article that referred to a statement issued by the American government, he echoed the sentiments of the paper’s readers: “How can a news outlet stay credible when readers learn later that it has concealed what it knows?”

“It was a brutally hard call that, for some, damaged The Times’s standing. But to have handled it otherwise would have been simply reckless. I’d call this a no-win situation, one that reflects the limits of responsible journalism in the theater of secret war,” Brisbane maintained in his justification of the paper’s decision to withhold crucial information about Davis. (ANI)

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