31 May 2014

Two articles about the press and government secrets--Dictynna

The Government Isn't Very Good at Deciding What to Keep Secret

So why do so many Americans insist that the state, not the press, should call the shots?
Conor Friedersdorf | May 23 2014, 8:00 AM ET

The U.S. government routinely tries to hide its unlawful behavior. It hides evidence of its incompetence too. That's a matter of historical record, not an opinion. Exposing government misbehavior sometimes requires publishing classified documents—take the Pentagon Papers or the Bush Administration's secret wiretaps.

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Michael Kinsley declares, "The Snowden leaks were important—a legitimate scoop—and we might never have known about the N.S.A.'s lawbreaking if it hadn’t been for them." As he sees it, unauthorized disclosures of classified information typically benefit the public. "Most leaks from large bureaucracies are 'good' leaks," he writes. "No danger to national security, no harm to innocent people, information the public ought to have."

Why the Press Can Publish Any Classified Material It Likes

Justice Hugo Black explained it in his 1971 opinion in New York Times v. United States.
Conor Friedersdorf | May 23 2014, 11:17 AM ET

In 1971, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black set forth his views on the press and its ability to publish classified information whether the government likes it or not. He did so during debate about whether the New York Times and Washington Post could be stopped from publishing leaked, classified Vietnam War documents. His full opinion in New York Times v. United States is online, and here are his words slightly condensed, with my emphasis added throughout.

Black's words are important to consider in the debate over who ought to have the final say on whether secret information is revealed, which I wrote about elsewhere here today. Black was right.


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