House GOP Chastises Media

Rep. Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio) sponsored the resolution, which also criticized the reporters' unidentified sources.
Rep. Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio) sponsored the resolution, which also criticized the reporters' unidentified sources. (By Carol T. Powers -- Bloomberg News)
By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 30, 2006

Newspapers have criticized politicians for decades, but House Republicans turned the tables yesterday. Over most Democrats' objections, the House voted to condemn the news media's disclosure of a secret program that monitors international bank transactions, endorsing President Bush's assertion that major newspapers have acted disgracefully and undermined vital anti-terrorism efforts.

The GOP-crafted resolution, approved 227 to 183, also condemned the unidentified sources who leaked information of the program. It said the House "expects the cooperation of all news media organizations" in protecting the government's capability "to identify, disrupt, and capture terrorists."

The House vote was the latest volley in a Republican campaign accusing the New York Times and other news outlets of endangering national security by disclosing classified programs, including the warrantless surveillance of Americans' phone calls and the collection of phone data from U.S. residences and businesses. The resolution forced Democrats -- who were allowed to offer no amendments or substitutes -- either to side with language that strongly defended Bush's controversial surveillance initiatives or to appear to be defending news outlets accused of aiding terrorists.

If publication of the bank-monitoring program goes unpunished, "What won't be leaked, and what won't be published?" asked Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) during the debate.

But Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) chastised the Republicans. "You know better than to seek to amend the First Amendment," which protects a free press, he said. He noted that Republicans have vilified the Times, which has a liberal editorial page, but barely mentioned the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page is conservative.

Last week, the Times, the Journal and the Los Angeles Times reported that the program bypassed traditional banking privacy protections in order to track vast numbers of international money transfers in a bid to spot terrorist funding activities. The Washington Post quickly matched the reports, and all four papers had extensive articles on June 23.

The House resolution did not name any publication, and sources said it was milder in its criticisms than some GOP members had wanted.

The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio), said that "the disclosure of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program has unnecessarily complicated efforts by the United States Government to prosecute the war on terror and may have placed the lives of Americans in danger both at home and in many regions of the world." It "condemns the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by those persons responsible and expresses concern that the disclosure may endanger the lives of American citizens."

Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-N.Y.) said the resolution "attempts to intimidate the press and strengthen the hands of this despotic administration, which continues to violate the law. . . . Freedom of the press is essential to a functioning democracy."

But Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said the New York Times reporters and editors who handled the banking story "are co-conspirators with the leakers," and should be hauled before a grand jury and forced to name their sources. If there is another terrorist attack on the United States, King said, "the blood will be on their hands."

In the Senate, John Cornyn (R-Tex.) introduced a similar resolution "condemning the damaging leaks and subsequent publication of vital national security information about the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program" and the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretaps of Americans' international phone calls and e-mails. It was unclear if or when the Senate would take up the measure.

Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) continued to gather signatures on a letter urging House leaders to revoke the credentials that allow New York Times reporters to move about the Capitol.

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