The war between the Bush Administration and the
“liberal MSM” (mainstream media) is getting personal.

The latest
flashpoint is the disclosure last Thursday by The New York Times (quickly
followed by The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles
Times
) that the US Government was tracking
financial transactions
through an international
consortium called the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial
Telecommunications, or Swift.

George
Bush
himself has just come out describing the
revelation as “disgraceful”: “We’re at war with a bunch of people who want to
hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program, and for
a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of
America.”

On Sunday, Times executive editor Bill Keller took the unusual
step of posting a
personal letter
on the paper’s website explaining
his decision to publish in response to letters from readers.

Bush’s
intervention follows outrage from the right, both blogs and publications like
Rupert Murdoch’s neoconservative Weekly Standard. The latest issue makes
the
case for prosecuting
the Times, and Heather
MacDonald from the ultra-conservative Manhattan Institute, also in the Standard,
says it is “now undeniable: The New York Times is a national
security threat
“.

Rough, but mild compared to
what is being said on some conservative blogs. Michelle Malkin has published
this series of “wanted”
posters
for the Times – “the paper of sedition”.
Instapundit has links
to much of the right’s response.

It hasn’t helped the Times that the
reporters who wrote the story, Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, also revealed the
National Security Agency’s wiretapping
program
– a story that caused similar conniptions on
the right.

The fact that Lichtblau and Risen picked up a Pulitzer for
their efforts only seemed to make things worse, with former Nixon speechwriter
Pat Buchanan railing against Pulitzers
for treason
.

The Times has come a long way
from the situation where it felt forced to write an apology for failing
to adequately scrutinise
the Bush Administration’s
case for invading Iraq.

Peter Fray

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