Courtesy of actus comes this link to a New York Observer piece that suggests, based on anonymous sources, that the Wall Street Journal had been working on the Swift story for months:
According to Journal staffers with knowledge of the situation, Mr. Simpson, who is based in Brussels, had been working for months on a story about government monitoring of the international banking system operated by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT. On June 22, Mr. Simpson was in Washington when a Treasury source tipped him that The Times would be publishing a piece on the subject, according to Journal sources. Mr. Simpson delayed a flight back to Belgium and raced to put out a piece on deadline, posting one online minutes after the Times story went out. The Journal, The Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post all had SWIFT stories in the next day’s papers.
I have previously discussed the Wall Street Journal‘s involvement here and here. I noted that 1) the government didn’t ask the Journal not to publish, and 2) unlike the L.A. Times, whose editor has made it clear he would have published regardless, there is no certainty that the Journal would have published if the New York Times hadn’t first. In the second link, I also relied on Paul Gigot’s statement that the paper wouldn’t have published.
Based on the N.Y. Observer story, I was probably too hasty in assuming that the editorial side in any way spoke for the news side, which is thought by most conservatives to be far more liberal than the editorial side. The story makes clear that the news side of the Wall Street Journal disagrees with what the editorial side said. I too credulously accepted the editorial side’s position as speaking for the paper as an institution.
But what I said before is still true now:
[F]or all we know, the Wall Street Journal had no intention of publishing the story once they learned that the program was safe, legal, and effective. They may well have decided — like the Washington Post and the entire blogosphere — that once the New York Times had spilled the beans, it was now news and had to be discussed.
It certainly sounds like this is still the case. The editors of the New York Times and L.A. Times have made it crystal clear in a joint op-ed piece that they would have run the story regardless. We don’t know that about the Journal. It is also still true that, as far as we know, the government didn’t ask the Wall Street Journal not to publish.
The same can’t be said of the New York Times or L.A. Times. I stand by my earlier conclusion: the papers to blame are the New York Times and the L.A. Times, in that order.
P.S. Don’t miss Jacob Weisberg’s piece criticizing the publication of the Swift stories. Weisberg is the editor of Slate. He is a lefty who is behind the often-flawed “Bushisms” series. Yet even he says:
To run with a story with the potential to cause significant harm to the national interest, I’d argue, an editor needs one of two things: a solid claim of public interest, or a sound basis for thinking that a story won’t in fact damage national security. In the case of the SWIFT story, editors at the Times were notably weak in both suits.
That’s the right analysis. I don’t agree with the whole of his piece, but it’s hard to find a rational leftist who thinks that publication was a good idea.
The Wall Street Journal might have come to the same conclusion, if the New York Times hadn’t made it a moot point.