Data Mining: Bad When It Fights Terror, Good When It Boosts Times Bottom Line

A reminder of hypocrisy at the Times.

The lead story in Sunday's Times was Scott Shane and David Johnston's "Mining of Data Prompted Fight Over U.S. Spying," on what the intelligence reporterscharacterized as a fierce Justice Department debate over the use of "data mining" in the waron terror.

"A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency's secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program.

"It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate. But such databases contain records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans, and their examination by the government would raise privacy issues."

But when the Times does data mining, it's not only acceptable, but the paper's executives even brag about it to shareholders, as the libertine-liberal Village Voice pointed out. Here's Voice reporter Keach Hagey from the May 1, 2007 Voice:

"Barely a year after their reporters won a Pulitzer prize for exposing data mining of ordinary citizens by a government spy agency, New York Times officials had some exciting news for stockholders last week: The Times company plans to do its own data mining of ordinary citizens, in the name of online profits.

"The news didn't make everyone all googly-eyed. In fact, some people at the paper's annual stockholders meeting in the New Amsterdam Theatre exchanged confused looks when Janet Robinson, the company's president and CEO, uttered the phrase 'data mining.' Wasn't that the nefarious, 21st-century sort of snooping that the National Security Agency was doing without warrants on American citizens? Wasn't that the whole subject of the prizewinning work in December 2005 by Times reporters Eric Lichtblau and James Risen?"

The Sunday Times also ran a related editorial that made some factual claims without evidence to back them up (hat-tip to the liberal blog Talking Points Memo).

"[FBI Director Robert Mueller and former deputy Attorney General James Comey] say that in March 2004 - when Mr. Gonzales was still the White House counsel - the Justice Department refused to endorse a continuation of the wiretapping program because it was illegal. (Mr. Comey was running the department temporarily because Attorney General John Ashcroft had emergency surgery.) Unwilling to accept that conclusion, Vice President Dick Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales and another official to Mr. Ashcroft's hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping."

Did Cheney really send Gonzales to Ashcroft's hospital room? Where is the Times getting its information?

Don Surber has more on other unverified aspects of the editorial.