Defending a Free Press

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“When in Doubt, Publish.” That’s the title of an essay defending the New York Times‘ decision to run the SWIFT story. “We believe that in the case of a close call, the press should publish when editors are convinced that more damage will be done to our democratic society by keeping information away from the American people than by leveling with them.”

I fully agree, and I’d emphasize one point here: The government for too long has abused its classification system. Things that should never be secret are kept bottled up for years for bizarre and purely arbitrary reasons. (The CIA’s budget from 1947 is still classified, even though, for instance, the 1998 budget is public.) There’s often no reason to trust an official request that this or that be kept out of the papers—and less so with this administration, which has elevated wanton secrecy to an art form. If the government wants to persuade journalists that some state secrets are too sensitive and too important to divulge, then it should stop needlessly keeping secret so many things that don’t fall under that category. A clearer line would help everyone here.

UPDATE: Jay Rosen has a very good post on this subject that’s worth reading in full.

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