Media conservatives baselessly claimed that many Democrats urged NY Times not to run bank tracking story

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

Several conservative media figures baselessly asserted that "a lot" of Democrats, including Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA), had asked The New York Times not to publish an article disclosing a secret counterterrorism program that involves tracking bank records. But Times executive editor Bill Keller named only three people outside the administration (two of whom were Democrats) who Keller said contacted the Times regarding the story; moreover, he did not say whether the two Democrats advocated against publishing the article.

Conservative media figures, including Fox News hosts and contributors Steve Doocy, David Asman, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), baselessly asserted that "a lot" of Democrats, including Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA), had asked The New York Times not to publish an article disclosing a secret counterterrorism program that involves tracking the bank records of "thousands of Americans and others in the United States." In fact, on the June 26 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, Times executive editor Bill Keller named only three people outside the administration (two of whom were Democrats) who Keller said contacted the Times regarding the story; moreover, he did not say whether the two Democrats he named -- Murtha and former 9-11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton -- advocated against publishing the article. A letter from Treasury Secretary John Snow to Keller -- responding to Keller's claims that the government's attempts to discourage the article's publication were "half-hearted" -- also noted that Hamilton and 9-11 Commission chairman Thomas H. Kean (a Republican) had contacted the Times and, in Snow's words, "urg[ed] the [Times] not to publish the story."

Discussing the Times' disclosure of the finance tracking program with Gingrich on the June 26 edition of The Big Story with John Gibson, guest-host David Asman claimed that "a lot" of Democrats called the Times, urging the newspaper not to publish the story. Gingrich agreed:

ASMAN: And as far as this particular leak is concerned, so far it seems that there is bipartisan condemnation of the leak and the decision by the Times. I mean, there were a lot of Democrats that called the editors of the Times asking them not to print this story, right?

GINGRICH: Yes. I mean, I don't understand the pathology that seems to inhabit now The New York Times' editorial decisions, and I don't know whether it's the senior management or what's going on there.

Similarly, on the June 27 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy asserted that "John Murtha called the Times" to discourage the newspaper from disclosing the program. Doocy added, "A whole bunch of Republicans and Democrats called and said, 'Don't do it.' "

BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): So here's what Keller says, he acts like he is surprised that there's this type of outrage within the administration. He says the administration made a secondary argument --

E.D. HILL (co-host): In America!

KILMEADE: -- that publication of this article would lead terrorists to change tactics, but he said the argument was made in a half-hearted way. And then Secretary Snow, not [White House press secretary] Tony Snow but John Snow, who hasn't left yet -- thought he did --he says, "Wait a second, what are you talking about? I asked for a meeting, we expressed consent, we had leaders of the Republican and Democratic side which may have included John Murtha, make calls asking you not to write it, and you wrote it anyway."

DOOCY: That's right. They tried for two months; the administration did, to make sure that the Times didn't publish it. John Murtha called the Times and said, "Don't do it." Lee Hamilton called, said, "Don't do it." Tom Kean called, said, "Don't do it." A whole bunch of Republicans and Democrats called and said, "Don't do it."

But on the June 26 edition of The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer, in a telephone interview with Keller, asked if Secretary Snow's assertion that Democrats requested that the Times not disclose the program was true. Keller replied that "three people outside of the administration were asked by the administration to call" the Times and urge the newspaper not to run the story. Later in the interview, he revealed the three: "Tom Kean, Lee Hamilton, and Congressman Jack Murtha." In addition, while refusing to reveal the details of those conversations, Keller added: "I will say that not all of them urged us not to publish." When Blitzer asked: "Who were the three people outside of the administration that asked you not to report this information?" Keller did name Kean, Hamilton, and Murtha, but he made clear that he was confirming only that the three spoke to him, not whether they had discouraged or supported the paper's decision to publish the story.

From the June 26 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: The treasury secretary, John Snow, says not only Bush administration officials but others appealed to you not to disclose this information, including Democrats, representatives from the 9-11 Commission, including the chairman and the co-chairman, as well as members of Congress on the intelligence committees. Is that true?

KELLER: To the best of my knowledge, three people outside of the administration were asked by the administration to call us. I spoke to one of them. One of them spoke to our Washington bureau chief. One of them spoke to Jill Abramson, our managing editor. All of them spoke, they thought, in confidence, and I don't think I will breach the confidence of what they said, although I will say that not all of them urged us not to publish.

BLITZER: Because in the letter from the treasury secretary, he specifically refers to former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, who, together with the chairman of the 9-11 Commission, Governor Tom Kean of New Jersey, appealed to you not to print this information. I assume you can confirm Lee Hamilton, since the treasury secretary has disclosed his name.

KELLER: I am happy to tell you who we spoke to. I think I'll leave it to them to tell you what they actually said, but I will say that --

BLITZER: Who were the three people outside of the administration that asked you not to report this information?

KELLER: Tom Kean, Lee Hamilton, and Congressman Jack Murtha.

BLITZER: Congressman Jack Murtha, who has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq.

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