Accuracy in Media

A terrible prank was played on the New York Times when the paper received a letter containing a suspicious white powder. Reuters news service reported that “Emergency vehicles and an ambulance responded to the newspaper’s offices on 43rd Street” and “the man who opened the envelope was taken to hospital for precautionary tests and treatment.” It turned out to be corn starch. But there are some lessons here for the paper, if it will only take some time to consider the implications of what happened.

First, it should serve as a reminder that the paper sits in a city that is a prime target for another terrorist attack. It’s probably too much to expect that the paper will reconsider its campaign to undermine the war on terrorism because of the faux anthrax incident, but we can hope and pray for this outcome nonetheless. Times spokesperson Catherine Mathis told Reuters that the envelope included a copy of a June 28 editorial entitled “Patriotism and the Press” with an “X” marked through it. That editorial defended the paper over its publication of classified information about counter-terrorism programs. Those programs are designed to find terrorists that might target New York City-and, therefore, the Times.

Second, the incident should cause the paper to reconsider the campaign that its columnist, Nicholas Kristof, waged against Steven Hatfill, falsely trying to implicate him in the post 9/11 anthrax attacks. Hatfill has been forced to sue the paper over this libelous onslaught. Kristof is one reason why the FBI failed to find the real perpetrators, who were probably al-Qaeda agents. The failure to find the real perpetrators is one reason why the arrival of the fake anthrax was taken so seriously. The real culprits could still be on the loose, thanks in part to the Times.

The Reuters dispatch said that, “Letters with a Trenton, New Jersey, postmark and containing anthrax bacteria were mailed to several media offices and two U.S. senators, killing five people and sickening 17 others.” That’s true, and the attacks are still officially unsolved, thanks in part to Times columnist Kristof.

The Times’ conduct has really been despicable. It works to undermine secret anti-terrorism programs while defending a columnist who put the FBI on the trail of the wrong people in the anthrax attacks. It’s almost as if the paper doesn’t want to know who the enemy is, and wants to leave the nation completely vulnerable.

Why can’t the paper realize that it is “our” nation? Its anti-Bush animus makes that concept too hard to fathom. Tragically, the next time the anthrax could be real. And the odds of this happening increase every time the paper reveals the existence of another secret counter-terrorism program.

Thomas Jefferson reportedly said that he would prefer newspapers without government than a government without newspapers. But what happens when a newspaper undermines the government that is supposed to help protect the very existence of the newspaper? It means freedom of the press is being used to lay the groundwork for the destruction of freedom itself. As such, our lives are at risk.

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