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New York Times: Not Very Swift

The Journal Editorial Report

Paul Gigot: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," a defiant North Korea promises more missile launches as President Bush tries to rally the world to stop the rogue state. Plus, what's fit and unfit to print? Newspapers expose a secret program to track terror financing, fueling the debate over the obligations of the press in war time. And passions flare as Mexico faces a potential electoral crisis. What does that country's presidential vote mean for the U.S.? First the headlines.

Gigot: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot. North Korea continued to defy the world, defending this week's missile tests as its legal right to self defense and threatening more launches if sanctions are imposed. This, as Security Council members struggle to agree on appropriate language for a U.N. resolution. Joining me on the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; and deputy editor Melanie Kirkpatrick.

Melanie, Steve Hadley, the national security advisor at the White House said that he didn't know what Kim Jong Il thought he could accomplish this week by doing this. Do you really think the North Korean leader is that inscrutable?

Kirkpatrick: Actually, people call him the madman with some correctness. But he's pretty predictable. There are a couple things that he wanted to do here. And it is the same as happened in the 1990s and in the early part of this century.

Number one, he wanted to get attention. And you know, the world was kind of focused on Iran. He saw that the Bush administration was willing to talk to Iran. And he thought hey, maybe I can get something like--something similar. I can get the same deal.

Gigot: Which is direct talk.

Kirkpatrick: Which is direct talk.

Gigot: Between the United States and North Korea, which is what President Bush agreed to with Iran.

Kirkpatrick: That's right. Instead of the multilateral approach that the Bush administration has always taken on North Korea. Second, he probably wanted to advertise his military expertise to potential--

Gigot: That didn't work very well.

Kirkpatrick: --to potential customers.

(Laughter)

Gigot: But that didn't work very well because it blew up in 40 seconds or so.

Kirkpatrick: Only the long range missile blew up. The others worked perfectly well. And he sold lots of those. And I think hopes to sell more. And last, it is just a continuation of his policy of international military extortion, which has been going on for over a decade. And it always brings him some accommodation to date from the world community.

Gigot: Is that going to change?

Stephens: Well, no. Not to judge by the reaction that we've had this time. I think Kim got precisely what he was looking for. This kind of massive international condemnation. A flurry of attention. Kim has this one lever over the rest of the world, which is military blackmail. And it wasn't any surprise that he kept this long-range Taepodong missile on the platform for two weeks before actually firing it off on the Fourth of July. He wanted to make sure that the world understood that he had these kinds of weapons. And they might come to some sort of agreement to buy him off. And that's not out of the question. As Melanie said, it's happened before.

Kirkpatrick: I think there is one difference here though from the past. And that is he did it against the express public advice of China and South Korea, which are his two biggest backers. And that's a red line he hasn't crossed in the past.

Gigot: So this ought to be a real big embarrassment for those two countries, Dan. And yet, we see, in the initial response, that neither one is falling in behind the United States or Japan, who have reacted very forcibly and want the U.N. and the world to not only to condemn it, but to do something. China and South Korea are saying no.

Henninger: And Russia as well. I mean, I think you put your finger on one of the biggest problems here. The United States, this week in response to this, kept saying we are working with our partners to resolve the problem. Our partners, South Korea, Russia and the Chinese, have not been any help whatsoever. In the Security Council, they have been--the Russians and the Chinese have been thwarting a resolution to impose sanctions on the North Koreans, which at a minimum is what we ought to be doing. The Japanese have proposed that we prohibit them from importing any material that could be used in their nuclear program. The Chinese and Russians oppose that.

Gigot: Let's get to the China question, Bret. Because, I mean, it can't be in China's interest to have a nuclear armed North Korea. And it can't be in China's interest to have a more militarily aggressive Japan, which is happening. Internal Japanese politics is changing in response to this. It is becoming more hawkish and closer to the U.S. China can't want that.

Stephens: And we need to bring that point home. With the Chinese, first of all, they don't want to sell out a client. And they've always seen North Korean as a client. And second of all, they don't want an implosion of North Korea, which would lead to a flood of refugees into northeastern China. That's their thinking. But again, the problem with the Bush administration's approach is to say we are working with our partners. In fact, with the exception of Japan, we have to be working, in a sense, against our partners. We have to make clear to, say South Korea, the price they are going to pay for continuing this policy of appeasement, this so-called Sunshine Policy, to the North. Same goes for China. They have to be made to pay a price for their malfeasance in these six-party talks.

Gigot: Dan, what I want to ask you about, a comment made by Madeline Albright this week. Bill Clinton's secretary of state. She said this is now a perfect storm for American foreign policy. We are tied down in Iraq. Iran is defying the world. Things aren't going well in Afghanistan. And now, we have North Korea. And this is all because the administration is so preoccupied with Iraq.

Henninger: One may make that argument, Paul. But you know what? Remember the old saying, politics stops at the water's edge? Well, it is over flowed the water's edge for a long time. I think one of the reasons we are having this problem is because our adversaries and some of our so-called friends, like the Russians and Chinese, see that this president has been the subject of concerted constant persistent opposition from the Democrats from the moment he took office. They see a divided country politically, divided on key foreign policy issues. And when you reach a situation where you have serious problems, like Iran or North Korea, they are looking at a disunited United States. That's dangerous.

Gigot: All right. Last word, Dan. Thanks. When we come back, the New York Times exposes a major weapon in the war on terror, setting off a heated debate over the role of the press in wartime. Should the press publish everything it knows? Plus, unrest in Mexico as the ruling party pulls off a razor-thin victory in this week's presidential elections. Is the outcome good for the United States? Our panel weighs in on those topics. And our "Hits and Misses" of the week when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

Gigot: Welcome back. The disclosure last month by the New York Times of a secret Bush administration program to monitor international banking transactions has set off a new round of debate over the obligations of the press in wartime. In a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, my colleagues and I weighed in, criticizing the Times for compromising, if not overtly obstructing, the administration's efforts to fight the war on terror. We invited New York Times executive editor Bill Keller to be on the show. He declined. We are pleased to be joined instead by Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at the Jones Shorenstein Center on the Press and Politics and Public Policy, and a Fox News contributor.

Marvin, welcome to the program.

Kalb: Thank you very much, Paul.

Gigot: Let me read to you a quote from Sen. John McCain this week. And I want to get you to respond. He said the following, when it was asked whether the press should have published this story on terror financing. "No, I don't think they should have. I think there were laws that were passes that allow programs such as this. I think it is a very important program. Tracking the money is a vital tool. And members of Congress were kept informed and agreed to this program." End quote.

Why is John McCain wrong?

Kalb: Well, I'm not saying that he is wrong. I think that the story that the New York Times broke is one of those that you end up 49-51, do I go with it or do I sit on it? My own feeling is that the New York Times did the right thing by going with the story. In that sense, I disagree with the senator, most respectfully. I do believe, however, that if I were the editor of the Times, a very unlikely prospect--I would have gone with the story in a different way. Not with all of the detail on finances, but by focusing on a major activity of the administration without sufficient consultation with the Congress and possibly--although not necessarily in this case--in some violation of the law itself.

Gigot: But nobody since that story has broken has said this has violated the law. I mean, there hasn't been.

Kalb: Now, that's true.

Gigot: And John McCain and others--Jack Murtha, in fact, asked the Times not to publish it--the Democrat from Pennsylvania. So there is no assertion here that Congress wasn't adequately informed.

Kalb: I think the assertion was made by the New York Times, by the LA Times, by your own newspaper and the Washington Post, all of whom ran this story. And what they said was that there was very limited--very limited consultation with the Congress. Only after the administration knew that the Times was going to go with the story were all of the people on the relevant committees informed. I think that the editorial that you ran, Paul--and I say this, as you know, with total respect for you as a journalist--I think it was dead wrong. I think you declared war on another American newspaper without due cause. It is mean. It is mean-spirited.

Gigot: We want to know is--what I've heard from many people, many of our readers is what is the public interest that was served in disclosing this story? Why did we have to undermine a program that really worked effectively to track terror financing? What specific interest was served?

Kalb: Well, number one, I don't know about the undermining of the program. I don't know enough about secret details and all of that. I don't have access to that. And I don't think you do either by the way. But I think.

Gigot: Absolutely not. But we don't make that leap of faith and say, which the New York Times has said, that they think in fact the terrorists already knew it. We are not omniscient. That's what the Times is saying.

Kalb: No, no. But, Paul, I think what the Times said--and everybody has said, and you don't have to be a particular genius to figure this out--the terrorists themselves must know. It is the oldest rule of journalism and terrorism. Follow the money. So if they are going--if they know about that, they are going to be very careful about the way in which they send money through regular banking channels. We know from newspaper stories, including those in The Wall Street Journal, that the terrorists themselves are going outside of this established channel to do it in different ways. Hand carrying money. That sort of thing.

Gigot: But the--

Kalb: So in other words, I don't know that you have a right, on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, which was also fed this story by the government.

Gigot: We were not fed the story. The news side--the news side was fed it.

Kalb: --to accuse the Times of treason. That's terrible.

Gigot: The news side of the Journal was given the story because they didn't like--they wanted to affect the way that this story was portrayed. We were trying to answer--

Kalb: You said that.

Gigot: We were trying to answer.

Kalb: You said that there would be a straighter account.

Gigot: Right.

Kalb: A straighter story written by Glenn Simpson. What does that mean, that he's going do it uncritically? I don't think so.

Gigot: Well, he didn't do it uncritically. He did it straightforwardly. But on your point that terrorists knew this story--in Bali--knew how this terrorist financing worked. In Bali, the terrorist in Bali, who was behind the Bali bombing, clearly didn't know this because that helped uncover him. How can we, as newspaper editors, really assert that we know the terrorists understand this program? And knew how it worked? Because, in fact, they may have known that we knew in the United States that we could track terror financing. But perhaps the people in Oman or Saudi Arabia or elsewhere didn't know that they could use this SWIFT Program. It is a leap of faith and arrogance; it seems to me, on the part of the press to assert that we know that this program wasn't really all that important.

Kalb: I think you are making a very good point. I think that we don't know that. And I tried to say before I don't know. And I don't think you do either. But journalism is a matter of daily judgment. An editor is paid a certain amount of money to make judgments every single day about whether a story should be in the newspaper, on a network, or not. You make the decision to invite me on to this program. You could invite someone else on. But you have that judgment call that you have to make as a producer and editor. Now, that doesn't mean that the journalist will always get it right, particularly in war. But it does mean, since you raised this question, that coverage in wartime is not something that is taken lightly by any journalist who has ever covered a war. I don't know if you have. But I can tell you, flat out, that most journalists are very respectful of the rights, of the needs, of the soldiers. They are not going to run anything that they think is going to harm the American people or the American troops. I think we all know that. And it shouldn't be alleged or even implied, which is what you did, that this is not the case with the New York Times. That's so unfair.

Gigot: All right, Marvin--all right, Marvin. You get the last word here. Thanks for coming on.

Kalb: Thank you.

Gigot: When we come back, fears of instability and violence in Mexico as the ruling party ekes out a narrow victory in the presidential election. What's at stake for the United States? That, and our "Hits and Misses" of the week when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

Gigot: Felipe Calderón, successor to Vicente Fox, won a razor-thin victory in Mexico's fiercely contested presidential election this week, as his populist left opponent vowed to take his fight to the streets. Bret, you were raised for a time in Mexico. Are we looking at, in Mexico, a full fledged Florida 2000 kind of brawl over the legitimacy of the election?

Stephens: That depends on what the loser in the race, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftist candidate of the PRD Party decides to do. He's already announced that he's going to challenge the results in court, even though the electoral process was transparent, very clean. And of course, call out as he does frequently, or as has in the past, call out mobs into the street in order to try to pressure the government into a kind of hand recount or force this to continue in the way that Al Gore did for another month or two until the vote is finally certified on Sept. 6. But I have to say that this isn't quite Florida in that this election was conducted more professionally, more cleanly, certainly than the 2000 election was in the U.S. In fact, it's hard to think of any election anywhere that was done more professionally. And as someone, as you said, who was raised in Mexico, it makes me very proud of the country.

Gigot: Well, it's astonishing when you think of Mexican history where accusations of fraud have been legion for decades, Dan.

Henninger: Well, exactly. I don't think we can really overstate here the extent to which this election shows a country maturing democratically and politically. That country was run for something like 70 years by a single party monopoly, the PRI. Do you know how many votes--the percentage of votes the PRI got in this election? Twenty-two percent. They were a long third.

Gigot: Amazing implosion.

Henninger: Amazing implosion for a party like that. So you've got two vigorous parties now contending--and they elect a centrist party. And the centrist party is winning. And it shows you have an aspiration middle class and lower middle class in Mexico that is trying to create a serious country.

Gigot: That's an optimistic take on Mexico that I happen to share, Dan. But it is true that they only got--Calderón only got, what, 38% of vote or 35%. So 64% of the Mexican public favored left or center left parties. Why is does that sentiment still dominate Mexican politics?

Kirkpatrick: Well, I think there are still very many poor people in Mexico. And there is a division between this growing middle class and the poor people, who López Obrador spoke out and said he would speak on behalf of without offering any very specific policies about how to grow the economy. And whereas Calderón, the winner, was very much associated with the free market and also with the United States, with whom he promised to be in better relations.

Stephens: Well, you don't escape your history very easily. No country does. Mexico was dominated for 71 years by one party. That party created a huge bureaucracy. Many people employed by the government. A lot of them voted for the PRI. Mexico as has tradition going back to the 1930s. In fact, long before--of a populace strain in their politics. That strain was represented by Lopez. Or rather, what's new is you have what you might call a Wal-Mart electorate in Mexico thanks to Nafta. A group of Mexicans, who have benefited from free trade, from foreign direct investment, and from 20 years or 15 years of general macro economic stability, so that they now can aspire to something larger.

Gigot: This is inspirational middle class that Dan talked about. It is fascinating. If you look at the geography of this vote, it's blue state, red state almost in Mexico. And the northern parts of the country and the western parts, the most prosperous parts, voting for Calderón.

Stephens: That's exactly it.

Gigot: It's a fascinating break. OK, last word. We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Gigot: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses," it's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week. Item one, are voters in the Garden State getting what they deserve--Dan?

Henninger: You mean the Gambling State?

(Laugher)

Yes. As we know, they shut down New Jersey for a week, which meant shutting down the casinos in Atlantic City. This was over a fight between Gov. Corzine and his Democratic legislature over the governor's desire to raise the sales tax from 6% to 7% to pay for the spending that the legislature in New Jersey has appropriated. Well, they finally settled it. The sales tax will rise 1%. Half of that rise will go to relieving their crushing property taxes in New Jersey. You know what? I'm kind of sympathetic with Gov. Corzine. This is a blue state. They like Democrats there. Gov. Corzine is a tax-and-spend Democrat. The people of New Jersey knew what they're getting into. And I say to Gov. Corzine go for it. People in a state like that ought to have their taxes raised to support the spending they've been voting for.

Gigot: And drive more New Jerseyites to Arizona? OK, Dan. All right, thanks. Next, some members of the press corps seem to be dancing on Ken Lay's grave, Melanie?

Kirkpatrick: I am not joining in the dancing. I find him a profoundly tragic figure. I think if Shakespeare were writing today, he'd write a play called Ken Lay.

Gigot: Former Enron CEO.

Kirkpatrick: He is the former Enron CEO. He had a hard scrabble background. He grew to be one of the most respected and admired businessmen in America. A friend of the president of the United States. And then, whamo. We all know what happened. He is now known as one of the biggest corporate villains in our history. But the real story is a lot more complicated than that. He was not the one who masterminded the fraud at Enron, although he was convicted in May for lying about Enron's finances. And when he died, he was still proclaiming his innocence.

Gigot: All right, Melanie. Thanks. Finally, a miss to Joe Lieberman's fair weather friends in the Senate, Bret?

Stephens: Yes. I don't know if you've ever seen those nature videos where the water buffalo give up the weakest member of the herd to keep the crocks happy, so they could ford the stream. That's basically the Democratic Party's attitude toward Joe Lieberman, who's facing a primary challenge from left winger Ned Lamont.

And just this week, John Kerry announced that he wasn't even going to support Joe Lieberman in the primary. Well, politics is about winning. But it's also about loyalty. In order to get some, you have to give some. And I think that John Kerry and some of the other Democrats will have what's coming to them after Joe Lieberman wins the primary.

Gigot: All right, Bret, thank you. That's it for this week's edition of "The Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to Dan Henninger and Melanie Kirkpatrick and Bret Stephens. I'm Paul Gigot. Thank you all for watching. And we hope to see you next week.


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