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Bush Presses Editors on Security

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 26, 2005

President Bush has been summoning newspaper editors lately in an effort to prevent publication of stories he considers damaging to national security.

The efforts have failed, but the rare White House sessions with the executive editors of The Washington Post and New York Times are an indication of how seriously the president takes the recent reporting that has raised questions about the administration's anti-terror tactics.

Leonard Downie Jr., The Post's executive editor, would not confirm the meeting with Bush before publishing reporter Dana Priest's Nov. 2 article disclosing the existence of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe used to interrogate terror suspects. Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, would not confirm that he, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman had an Oval Office sit-down with the president on Dec. 5, 11 days before reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau revealed that Bush had authorized eavesdropping on Americans and others within the United States without court orders.

But the meetings were confirmed by sources who have been briefed on them but are not authorized to comment because both sides had agreed to keep the sessions off the record. The White House had no comment.

"When senior administration officials raised national security questions about details in Dana's story during her reporting, at their request we met with them on more than one occasion," Downie says. "The meetings were off the record for the purpose of discussing national security issues in her story." At least one of the meetings involved John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, and CIA Director Porter Goss, the sources said.

"This was a matter of concern for intelligence officials, and they sought to address their concerns," an intelligence official said. Some liberals criticized The Post for withholding the location of the prisons at the administration's request.

After Bush's meeting with the Times executives, first reported by Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, the president assailed the paper's piece on domestic spying, calling the leak of classified information "shameful." Some liberals, meanwhile, attacked the paper for holding the story for more than a year after earlier meetings with administration officials.

"The decision to hold the story last year was mine," Keller says. "The decision to run the story last week was mine. I'm comfortable with both decisions. Beyond that, there's just no way to have a full discussion of the internal procedural twists that media writers find so fascinating without talking about what we knew, when, and how -- and that I can't do."

Some Times staffers say the story was revived in part because of concerns that Risen is publishing a book on the CIA next month that will include the disclosures. But Keller told the Los Angeles Times: "The publication was not timed to the Iraqi election, the Patriot Act debate, Jim's forthcoming book or any other event."

Bought Off?

The admission by two columnists that they accepted payments from indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff may be the tip of a large and rather dirty iceberg.

Copley News Service last week dropped Doug Bandow -- who also resigned as a Cato Institute scholar -- after he acknowledged taking as much as $2,000 a pop from Abramoff for up to two dozen columns favorable to the lobbyist's clients. "I am fully responsible and I won't play victim," Bandow said in a statement after Business Week broke the story. "Obviously, I regret stupidly calling to question my record of activism and writing that extends over 20 years. . . . For that I deeply apologize."

Peter Ferrara of the Institute for Policy Innovation has acknowledged taking payments years ago from a half-dozen lobbyists, including Abramoff. Two of his papers, the Washington Times and Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, have now dropped him. But Ferrara is unapologetic, saying: "There is nothing unethical about taking money from someone and writing an article."


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