National Security, Freedom of the Press and the New York Times

The New York Times wrote an article about the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program recently. Readers express their views on whether this was an appropriate action for a media outlet in the United States.

A national debate has been raging as a result of the publication of information by the New York Times regarding the publication of information regarding the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program. It is a classic case of national security versus the right of a news organization to distribute information.

Last week, we asked readers for their views on the issues surrounding this case. Here is a summary of the results:

1. Do you agree with the decision of the New York Times to publish information about the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program?

Yes: 36%No: 61%Undecided: 3%

2. Has publishing information on the terrorist financing program damaged the national security of the United States?

Yes: 58%No: 36%Undecided: 6%

3. Should the New York Times be prosecuted for publishing the information?

Yes: 47%
No: 44%
Undecided: 9%

4. Has the publication of this information impacted your reading habits regarding the New York Times?

More inclined to read the paper: 13%

Less inclined to read the paper: 41%
No change in my reading preferences: 44%
Undecided: 3%

As you can see from the results, there was a large majority of readers that disagreed with the decision of the paper to publish information on the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program. There was also a large majority that believe the publication of the information has damaged the national security of the United States.

A small number of readers think that the Times should be prosecuted. While we did not ask the question, a number of readers sent in written comments to the effect that the federal employee(s) who leaked the information should be tracked down and prosecuted rather than the paper.

Finally, with regard to whether the publication of the information on the program has changed the reading habits with regard to the paper, most readers indicated that it would not change their habits although 41% said they were less inclined to read the New York Times as a result of running the article on this tracking program.

As always, readers had a diversity of opinion. Here are a few of the comments.

A labor relations specialist from the Treasury Department in Philadelphia wrote: "I am all for freedom of speech, except, when it risks everyone’s safety or causes harm to someone. The unexcusable action the New York Times engaged in was due to GREED over the safety and well being of others."

An equipment specialist from FORSCOM HQ at Ft. McPherson, GA had a similar view: "The first amendment does not guarantee the right to disclose information that will help our enemy and harm our cause. Those responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

A real estate manager from GSA in New York City may be one of those less inclined to read the Times as a result of the article in question as this person wrote. "They should be tried for treason."

An employee of the Bureau of Land Management in Amarillo, TX had similar thoughts: "I never read this left wing paper and never will. What they did is plain and pure an act of treason."

A contract administrator from the Navy in Pensacola, FL is less hostile but still concerned about the actions of the Times: "The New York Times has gone too far in their quest for a good story. The public does not have the need to know the exact details of the program to know about the program. They could have reported on the US tracking the money without going into specific details about the system and how they track specific transactions….They have severely crippled our Intelligence Agents. The terriorists will go a different route now, and it could take years for our Intelligence to figure out."

A program manager for the Defense Logistics Agency at Ft. Belvoir, VA expressed this view: "…[T]he real lack of objectivity shown by this newspaper has limited the public’s access to news rather than opinions. I am certain that a small group that it appears the paper was pandering to may continue their readership, but ordinary folks will look elsewhere for their information."

A retired federal employee from the Naval Station in Newport, RI says: "It is clear that the New York Times has a vendetta with President Bush and is willing to send the United States down the river in order to bring the man down. It is shameful and treasonous."

A postmaster from New York has a strong opinion: "NYT has become more of a left wing, sensationalist publication, leaving behind truthfulness and common sense. Read the Wall Street Journal, if you want truth, patriotism and an education."

A systems analyst from DoD in Chambersburg, PA has a different view: "Real issue is how did the NY Times get the story in the first place. The current administration has been filled with security leaks. If the Times would not have printed the story, the story would have been leaked to another publisher until the story was finally printed. You don’t hear much of the administration trying to find the source. An intentional leak in an attempt to help the Republican Party? Wouldn’t put it past them."

A service representative from the Social Security Administration in Mesa, AZ had this point of view: "In the case of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, all government agencies were operating within their jurisdiction and scope of authority, and all relevant agencies were fully knowledgeable. The program was specifically according to the will and authority of the people….[T]he NY Times, Washington Post and other newspapers and journalists were not acting on our behalf, but acting directly contrary to our will and according to their own selfish interests. Therefore they broke the law and must be prosecuted by the law."

An employee of SSA in San Diego, CA wrote: "There is no question that the New York Times is openly hostile to this administration. It is unbelievable to me that a news organization that holds itself out as a paragon of integrity would, in its arrogance, undermine this nations ability to effectively fight the war on terror."

Not all readers had this perspective. Here is the other side of the issue expressed by some.

This reader with the Customs and Border Protection agency in Jamaica, New York wrote: "The ‘treason’ red herring, shouted from the rooftops by both Bush and his loyal lapdog Peter King, is exactly the same *** as Nixon and Agnew claiming that the release of the Pentagon Papers, would in any way damage our supposed ‘national security’. What really damages our national security is an unnecessary ‘pre-emptive Bush war in Iraq."

A military personnel technician from Denver thinks the real culprits are those leaking the information: "It’s sad but, this administration has caused a distrust of all of the actions they are taking including, what appears to be intentional, leaking of secure info for political purposes. My question is who ‘leaked’ the so called ‘Classified’ information to the N.Y. Times in the first place? Our Govt. should be going after these Leekers with a vengence as, I would consider it TREASONOUS."

An HR specialist from the VA in Los Angeles writes: "Would there be as much protest if another newspaper or media outlet were involved? It appears that certain people are looking for an excuse to bash the NY Times…."

A physician from the VA in Washington, DC is more upset with the administration: "For me, it comes down to who do I trust more: the Bush Administration, or any media outlet? The administration has misled me on numerous occasions, it has ruined our international standing, it has misguided our country after 9/11 and squandered the entire world’s goodwill towards the US, so I think I’ll continue to trust ANY media outlet more than this administration…"

An HR specialist with the Dept. of Interior says it is not an important issue: "When I first learned of the NY Times article, I was a little puzzled as to how it could be ‘news.’ For some reason, I had been under the impression for some time (i.e., years) the government had been doing this. If I thought it was going on, I’m sure others did as well – including terrorists. So what’s the big deal?"

A bank examiner from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency supports the Times’ action: "One only has to refer to history books to remember that the tactics being used in the US government in the name of "the war on terrorism" are the same tactics used by any modern era dictactorship. Fear, secrecy, violation of civil rights, executive decrees…we are marching down the same path. Bravo to the NY Times.

An air traffic controller from Westbury, NY had similar views: "Bravo NY Times. We cannot allow ourselves to error into a police state."

This final comment from an engineer with the Department of Defense in North Dakota: "What other country on earth would put up with what they did? Ours is the greatest."

Thanks to the many readers who voted in this survey and a special thanks to those who took the time to send in their written comments.