Tag Archives: Jill Abramson

Pushing back against the White House anti-leak crusade

By Bill Kirtz

Leading news figures this weekend blasted expanding investigations of national-security leaks, detailed the dilemma of dealing with confidential sources and offered ways to restore credibility in a media universe that merges fact with fiction.

Their comments came at Boston’s Investigative Reporters and Editors conference attended by some 1,200 established and aspiring journalists.

New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson said the Obama administration’s widening probes have created an “urgent” problem because it has a “chilling effect” on confidential sources. She said the current Washington environment “has never been tougher and [confidential] information harder to dislodge.”

She said the attorney general’s latest attempts to ferret out leakers raise the question of whether the U.S. Espionage Act “is being used as a substitute for” Britain’s wide-ranging Official Secrets Act.

Using the Espionage Act, the current administration is pursuing six leak-related criminal cases. That’s twice as many as all previous administrations combined brought since the act was passed in 1917 to punish anyone who “knowingly and willfully” passes on information that hurts the country or helps a foreign power “to the detriment of the United States.”

The Official Secrets Act makes it unlawful to disclose information relating to defense, security and intelligence, international relations, intelligence gained from other departments or international organizations and intelligence useful to criminals.

Alluding to recent Times stories about U.S. drone strikes and computer attacks aimed at Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, Abramson said the government’s policy on cyber warfare is an important subject about which the public needs to know.

The vast majority of her paper’s national-security disclosures come from “old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting” and not from leaks, she said. And before they run, she said, “We give all responsible officials a chance to reply” and will hold or cut information if they raise a legitimate security objection.

Times media columnist David Carr called the government investigations an “appalling” attempt to restrict information about significant issues.

“Whistle-blowers aren’t scarce but the people who blow them are,” he said, citing as an example the indictment of a National Security Agency worker who told a Baltimore Sun reporter about a failed technology program.

“As war becomes less visible and becomes its own ‘dark ops,’ reporters are trying to punch through and bring accountability,” he said. Carr added that while it’s easy to say leak-based scoops come gift-wrapped, they usually come from reporters working hard and asking the right questions. Continue reading

The absent women of “Page One”

Recently I gave a thumb’s-up to “Page One,” the documentary about the New York Times media desk. I did have a quibble:

As a friend observed, the documentary was heavily tilted toward men, which seems odd given that before it ends, we see the executive editor’s baton being passed from Bill Keller to Jill Abramson.

Now Jim Romenesko reports that two women on the media desk, Stephanie Clifford and Motoko Rich, were asked to take part and declined. Perhaps filmmaker Andrew Rossi could have tried a bit harder to get a female perspective, but now we know that he did make an attempt.

An entertaining look at the New York Times

David Carr torments a flack at Tribune Co.

At long last, I got to see “Page One: Inside the New York Times” at a screening last night at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. It’s a terrifically entertaining look at the culture inside the Times newsroom, focusing on the media desk’s coverage of the newspaper meltdown of 2009 and ’10. I brought a couple of students with me, and they were pretty enthusiastic about it as we were driving back to Northeastern.

As you have no doubt heard, the stars are columnist David Carr and reporter Brian Stelter, two people whose talents, though formidable, pale in comparison to their inhuman productivity. Carr easily slips into the role of Carr, a late-middle-aged reformed drug addict who genially F-bombs his way through interviews and public appearances, building up to his monumental takedown of Tribune Co. and its abusive owner, Sam Zell. Stelter, young and earnest, is the perfect counterpoint. (I know both of them slightly, Carr better than Stelter.)

Director Andrew Rossi and Shorenstein Center director Alex Jones kicked it around afterwards.

An obsessive media junkie probably won’t learn much, but I really enjoyed being immersed in Timesland for 90 minutes. Quibbles? As a friend observed, the documentary was heavily tilted toward men, which seems odd given that before it ends, we see the executive editor’s baton being passed from Bill Keller to Jill Abramson.

And though it was unavoidable, the sense of panic that pervaded the business when the film was being shot has abated to at least some degree. We’re hardly out of the woods. It seems that every day, we hear about cost-cutting and layoffs. But the notion that was prevalent a year or two ago, that the entire newspaper business was in its death throes, now appears to have been exaggerated. If “Page One” were shot today, I suspect it would be more optimistic.

Jill Abramson named to lead the New York Times

Jill Abramson

I have no particular insight into the announcement that New York Times executive editor Bill Keller has decided to step aside. But it’s big news in the media world, and it will be worth keeping an eye out to see whether there’s a story behind the story. Jim Romenesko is gathering links. It is, of course, significant that the Times’ next top editor, Jill Abramson, will be the first woman to run what is arguably our leading news organization.

Keller will write a column for the Sunday opinion section, which is being redesigned. His column for the Sunday magazine hasn’t exactly been well-received, so it’s hard to believe Keller is what we Frank Rich fans have been waiting for. But Keller is obviously a fine journalist, and he may rise to the occasion when he’s not dashing something off in addition to his other duties.

The last time the executive editor’s job changed hands was in 2003, when Howell Raines and his deputy, Gerald Boyd, stepped down following the Jayson Blair scandal. At that time Boston Globe editor Marty Baron, whose résumé included a stint as a Times editor, was considered for a top job at the Mother Ship. (Little-known fact: Keller turned down the chance to replace the retiring Matt Storin as the Globe’s editor in 2001, recommending Baron instead.)

That seems unlikely to happen this time, as Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet has already been announced as Abramson’s managing editor for news. Baquet is a former editor of the Los Angeles Times, where Baron also spent a good part of his career.

New York Times photo.