NYT Editor On The Decision To Post Leaked Cables
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Bill Keller is the paper's executive editor. He joins us now from New York. Welcome to the program once again.
BILL KELLER: Thank you.
SIEGEL: And first, people who read the paper this morning would have seen in an editor's note that The Times received these from a source who insisted on anonymity, who had received them from Wikileaks. Later, the Guardian, the British daily said that Wikileaks gave it the documents. Is it correct to say The Times gained access through the Guardian?
KELLER: Yes, that's correct.
SIEGEL: And so far as you know, the other publications all got them through the Guardian.
KELLER: I don't know about the others. I think some of them got it directly, some of them may have gotten it through the Guardian. The distinction is that they all got it with the permission of Wikileaks, whereas we got it sort of over the transom.
SIEGEL: You know the criticisms that have been voiced here: Diplomatic cables are meant to be confidential; kings, prime ministers don't use language with American envoys on the assumption that they'll end up quoted verbatim on the front page of The Times.
SIEGEL: What's the public's interest in seeing these unvarnished cables?
KELLER: You know, the stories today I think provided the fullest account that I've seen anywhere of America's attempt to rally a coalition against Iran and its nuclear ambitions. And it included a fascinating story about the extent to which American diplomats are being enlisted to gather intelligence on their counterparts in other countries, down to things like credit card numbers and frequent flyer numbers.
SIEGEL: But if, indeed, the government had come to you and you asked the Obama administration for their guidance, for what they thought here. If they said release of that could indeed jeopardize maintaining the very coalition against Iran that we've been trying to assemble. Would The Times say, well, if you're right we won't publish that? Or that's your job, our job is to publish things.
KELLER: They want our aid. They want our trade. They want our cooperation in resisting common enemies. And I don't think a bit of embarrassment trumps their own national and personal interest.
SIEGEL: You've described the rationale for publishing. In some cases you've withheld some diplomatic cables or redacted names in others. What's the rational for withholding? What's the line you've developed at The Times for figuring that one out?
KELLER: The easy calls on the other side are if it's just something that's going to embarrass somebody, you know, or cause a bit of diplomatic controversy. That probably is not justification for deciding that readers aren't entitled to see it.
SIEGEL: Well, Bill Keller, thank you very much for talking with us.
KELLER: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: That's Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times.
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