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The New York Times' Favor and Fear

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Robert Parry
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From Consortium News

The New York Times, like most U.S. newspapers, prides itself on its "objectivity." The Times even boasts about printing news "without fear or favor." But the reality is quite different, with the Times agreeing -- especially last decade -- to withhold newsworthy information that the Bush-43 administration considered too sensitive.

A new example of this pattern was buried in a Times article on Wednesday about a subpoena issued to Times reporter James Risen regarding his receipt of a leak about an apparently botched U.S. covert operation to sabotage Iran's nuclear research, a disclosure that Risen published in his 2006 book, State of War.

In Wednesday's article, the Times reported that its news executives agreed in 2003 to kill Risen's article about the covert operation at the request of George W. Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet.

And, it was not the only time in recent years when the Times bowed to White House pressure to conceal information in response to a claim of national security.

Before the presidential election in 2004, the Times editors had in their hands another Risen story, about Bush's warrantless wiretaps of Americans, but they spiked it at Bush's behest, again on national security grounds. The Times only published the wiretap story in December 2005, more than a year later, when it learned that Risen was also including that information in State of War.

The Times executives concluded that it was better to risk the wrath of the White House by publishing the wiretap disclosure than to suffer the embarrassment of getting caught sitting on a very newsworthy story, one that later won the Pulitzer Prize.

But the journalistic point in both these cases is that the Times was not acting "objectively," concerned only with the facts and the public's right to know. It was showing, without doubt, "favor" and quite possibly "fear" as well.

Whatever your personal feelings about Iran, the obvious truth is that if the identities of the nations involved in the nuclear-related covert action were reversed, the Times would not have hesitated to expose the treacherous behavior of Iran (in trying to sabotage a U.S. nuclear program). Indeed, the Times would likely have condemned Iran for reckless behavior if not an act of war.

By spiking the story when Iran was the target, the Times showed it was on board for the White House's anti-Iran campaign, much as Times executives clambered onto Bush's bandwagon for war with Iraq. Then, too, the Times let its desire to look "patriotic" and "tough" overwhelm its journalistic principles.

Aluminum-Tube Hoax

Infamously, the Times published a bogus front-page article in 2002 alleging that Iraq had acquired aluminum tubes for use in building nuclear centrifuges, when in reality the tubes were not suitable for that purpose.

Nevertheless, the false Times story gave great momentum to Bush's drive toward an unprovoked invasion of Iraq based on suspicions of secret WMD stockpiles. The aluminum-tube story was cited by national security adviser Rice and other senior officials as a warning that the U.S. must not let "the smoking gun be a mushroom cloud."

Rice played a role, too, in suppressing Risen's article about the covert operation to plant dysfunctional designs inside Iran's nuclear program, an operation that Risen suggests backfired when Iran detected the intentional errors but benefited from the real technology that was included.

This week, in a federal court opinion related to charges against former CIA employee Jeffrey Sterling that he leaked word of the Iran operation to Risen, Judge Leonie Brinkema wrote that in April 2003, Rice and Tenet met with Risen and then-Times Washington bureau chief Jill Abramson to request that the Times not write about the CIA's disruptions of Iran's nuclear program.

Just a month after Bush's invasion of Iraq -- with the President riding high in the polls and the United States awash in patriotic fervor -- the Times bowed to the administration's request.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at

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