The new head of The New York Times says that the Edward Snowden saga made him less willing to trust the government's warnings about the dangers of publishing certain information.
"There is nothing harder than, if you are the New York Times, getting beat on a big national security story — and to get beat by your biggest overseas competitor and your biggest national competitor, at the same time,” he said.
When Snowden released his documents about the National Security Agency (NSA) last summer, he first went to reporters at The Washington Post and The Guardian.
He intentionally avoided the Times, which a decade ago heeded calls from the government not to publish revelations about the NSA for a more than a year. According to NPR, the Times only ended up publishing the story because reporter James Risen, out of frustration with his editors, was primed to break the story in a book of his own.
In the NPR interview, Baquet added his reservations about trusting federal officials go beyond the Snowden case. As managing editor, he said, he occasionally regretting holding things back because of official requests.
"The government makes it sound like something really large, and in retrospect, it wasn't quite as large," he said.
The Post and Guardian both went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on the Snowden documents.
Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian reporter most closely linked to the Snowden stories, called Baquet’s remarks “encouraging.”
A “desperately needed debate about journalism itself” was one of his goals in publishing the stories, he wrote on his new website, the Intercept.
Baquet’s “epiphany,” he added, “is long-overdue, but better late than never. Let us hope that it signals an actual change in behavior.”