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'Times' under fire for handling of spy story
The New York Times, no stranger to controversy after the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal and the brouhaha over Judith Miller's role in the White House CIA leak, is now under attack on two fronts: from President Bush for reporting that the administration has engaged in domestic spying, and from journalism experts who question why the Times held the story for a year.

In a statement, New YorkTimes editor Bill Keller said that "the administration argued strongly that writing about this eavesdropping program would give terrorists clues about the vulnerability of their communications and would deprive the government of an effective tool for the protection of the country's security. Officials also assured senior editors of the Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed. ... As we have done before in rare instances when faced with a convincing national security argument, we agreed not to publish at that time."

What led to the decision to publish Friday, he said, was the paper found that civil liberties issues "loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood," and the paper found it could report on the secret program without damaging "any intelligence-gathering methods or capabilities that are not already on the public record."

Saturday, Bush said that as a result of the Times' report, "our enemies have learned information they should not have."

Harvard media analyst Alex Jones, a former Times reporter, said Sunday, "There are times to hold stories and times not to publish stories at all. But I think that I — as a Times reader — am entitled to more of an explanation of the delay ... of disclosing such hugely important information than has thus far been offered."

Holding such a major news story "is unacceptable for a paper where the masthead claims 'All the News That's Fit to Print,' since it must add 'and does not offend the current federal administration,' " said Tom McPhail, communications professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

But Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism gave the Times credit for "trying to be transparent about its thinking. This is what journalism is supposed to do. It is supposed to be a watchdog on government, and it is supposed to do that in a thoughtful rather than merely a reactive way."

Faith and values patrol

Tonight on ABC's World News, correspondent Jake Tapper reports on a pro-wrestling match Saturday in Winterville, Ga., complete with body slams, men in tights and a revved-up crowd.

"Ultimate Christian Wrestling is like any other pro-wrestling bout you might see on a Saturday night in rural Georgia," Tapper says. "Except the characters and story lines come to a dramatic climax at the end of the show straight out of the Book of Revelation: At the end of this show, dozens of folks in the audience said they were called to accept Jesus into their hearts. It was quite a thing to behold."

Along with rock music, video games, movies and car racing, "wrestling is one of many non-traditional ways evangelicals are reaching out to Americans in what seems a very significant spiritual revival going on," Tapper says.

Ever since the 2004 presidential election, when exit polls showed that millions of Americans put their faith and values at the top of their list, Tapper and ABC's Dan Harris have focused on an area the media long ignored: people of faith and the so-called culture wars.

"Everyone was talking about 'values voters' and how they asserted themselves, and it seemed like an opportunity to really do something that other news organizations weren't doing," says Harris.

He and Tapper credit late anchor Peter Jennings for pushing the beat. Jennings was the prime force behind ABC being the first to have a full-time religion reporter, Peggy Wehmeyer, from 1995 to 2002.

Not that other networks have ignored this topic or the issues involved. CNN recently hired Vatican expert Delia Gallagher to cover the beat; NBC's Tom Brokaw's special on the evangelical movement aired in October; and in her Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT special, ABC's Barbara Walters asks, "Is there a heaven?"

Gallagher, formerly a reporter for a small Vatican publication in Rome, is based in New York and recently covered the marketing to both religious and secular audiences of The Chronicles of Narnia.

"Talk to anybody who is involved in faith and values or religion, and they feel underrepresented at the network level. I see my position as a response to that. After the election, network executives in New York woke up and said, 'Wow, a lot of people have religious sentiment, and we need to cover what they are doing,' " she says.

Tapper and Harris have put their mark on the beat, with reports ranging from the evangelical movement to a Massachusetts dad protesting that his son in kindergarten is being taught about same-sex marriage. Harris and Tapper "spot issues before they get crystallized into the same old 'he said/she said' Crossfire-type debate," says network news analyst Andrew Tyndall.

Harris, who covered the war on terrorism from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel and Iraq after 9/11, says the beat has opened his eyes. "I thought I had seen the world, and in part I did. But I had no idea that when I came home, I would discover a completely different world in my own country."

People in the media "are generally very secular: They are more comfortable discussing science and medicine and electronics than they are faith," says Tapper. "Covering the beat has allowed me to appreciate in a greater and more meaningful way how incredibly complex and intimate these issues are. Like a husband and a wife can believe the same thing and yet have completely different perceptions of God. That's been the major thing I've realized, and I think that's great."

Jack Anderson: 1922-2005

Jack Anderson, for decades a muckraking columnist whose investigative work won a Pulitzer in 1972, was recalled over the weekend as a tough reporter who took on powerful interests and whose column was his life. Anderson, who died Saturday at age 83, had at one point appeared daily in more than 1,000 newspapers nationwide.

Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz, who worked for Anderson in the '70s, recalled Sunday that Anderson "once told me something that stuck in my mind. Although the 750-word columns were often devoted to exposing nefarious misdeeds, when it came to the person under fire, Anderson said, 'Act like you're his defense lawyer.' In other words, make the strongest possible case for the innocence of the public figure you were prosecuting."

Briefly ...

Time has named rock star/humanitarian Bono and Melinda and Bill Gates as its 2005 Persons of the Year. "One side brings the money, the other side the buzz. But like many great teams, this one is more than the sum of its symbols," Time says. ... Pundit Robert Novak will move to Fox News after 25 years with CNN, which this year canceled Crossfire and cut back on other political gabfests that featured Novak.

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