New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson has been fired and replaced by Dean Baquet, who was managing editor at the Times. But how will he defend the right to publish when confronted by opposition from government officials?
What will Baquet do to encourage and promote investigative journalism? What responsibility may he show to sources?
As executive editor, Abramson publicly condemned President Barack Obama’s administration for pursuing a record number of leak cases that essentially have criminalized the news gathering process. She spoke out in defense of Times national security reporter James Risen, who the administration has subpoenaed in a leak prosecution in order to force him to testify and reveal information about his source.
It was actually Baquet’s decision to publish a major feature story on CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou in January 2013 before he was sentenced. Kiriakou had asked Times journalist Scott Shane to wait until after so it did not impact his sentencing, but, as Baquet told Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, “We felt competitive pressure.”
Steve Coll was about to publish a similar story on Kiriakou for The New Yorker. It was more important to not get scooped than to respect an agreement that had been made with a source. (Indeed, the government claimed in its sentencing memorandum that the Times story was evidence that Kiriakou had repudiated his “acceptance of responsibility for the criminal conduct he committed.”)
In September 2013, Abramson and Baquet went to Washington to give officials a “respectful hearing” before publishing a story on the National Security Agency’s ability to break encryption. The decision to publish was “not a particularly anguished one.”
With regards to NSA stories, Baquet told Times public editor Margaret Sullivan in August 2013, “Once you get past the first stories by The Guardian and The Post, no one has broken more ground than we have.” He believed the Times had been intensely interested in the disclosures from Edward Snowden.
“We reacted the way you’re supposed to react when you get scooped,” and, “They beat us, that’s life. We’ve followed it and we’ve had some significant stories,” Baquet added.
To the idea of a reader that the “New York Times today is not The New York Times of the Pentagon Papers era,” Baquet heavily disagreed saying it was “unfair criticism.” He pointed to the disclosures from WikiLeaks and the “paper’s willingness to push back against the government.” And, even though the story on warrantless wiretapping story by Risen and Eric Lichtblau was initially spiked, he said that “took courage to print.”