At Ben Wittes’s request, I’ve put up a post on Lawfare reflecting on the things I got wrong in the days after 9/11. I can’t pretend it’s much of an apology. Here’s the gist:
First, I misread the willingness of the press and the Pulitzer committee to stop celebrating disclosures of classified information. A few years later, two New York Times reporters Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, were actually awarded a Pulitzer for blowing the secrecy of the Bush administration anti-terror wiretap program. given the doubts about its legality, that’s understandable. But the same two reporters, along with the Times itself, shortly thereafter disgraced themselves by disclosing a secret Treasury Department program that tracked terrorist finances — a disclosure they made despite a complete lack of either scandal or illegality.
The second thing I got wrong was thinking that the press still mattered in the same old way. I thought that the only way to influence the national conversation about terrorism was to persuade the editors of the Times to expand their Circle of Respectable Opinion to include a greater concern for security. Instead, the months after 9/11 created massive demand for independent bloggers who were willing to highlight stories and analyses that the press was filtering out. And so began a hemorrhage of readers, a loss of indispensability, that would fatally undercut the hold that mainstream media had on the national attention.
In an odd way, the two errors are connected. Because the mainstream media didn’t take its loss of influence well. In fact, it acted like a country parson who begins to deliver fire and brimstone sermons as his flock starts to dwindle. Remember the New York Times’s endless campaign in 2002 against the Augusta Country Club for, um, something or other? Its attack on Bush’s antiterror programs was part of that same doubled-down bet. But the mix of self-righteousness and flop sweat that infected the Times gradually forced anyone with views to the right of Manhattan’s Upper West Side to look elsewhere for news judgment.