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The New York Times, Danish Cartoons v. WikiLeaks

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When the Danish cartoons were published the New York Times decided that its readers didn't need to see them. When WikiLeaks dumped thousands of secret diplomatic and military cables into the Times' lap the "paper of record" jumped at the chance and published. Maybe they were right to do so. However they were also hypocrites.

Not all news is created equal. Why did the Times not publish the Danish cartoons, but did publish our national diplomatic and military secrets?

Ask yourself this: would the Times republish its own internal editor-to-reporter memos and/or tape recordings of conversations between its top editors and owners if these fell into the hands of WikiLeaks, say, honest discussions about the risk posed to the Times' by terrorists if they had published the Danish cartoons?

American diplomacy, messy as it may be, is all that stands between most of us and an even more chaotic and dangerous world. And of course our troops in the field -- troops like my Marine son -- are the people most likely to die or suffer injuries as a direct result of making the world a more dangerous place by undermining our State Department. If there is less talking there will be more shooting.

When it comes to putting people at risk the Times cares about its safety and the safety of people like the editors and owners more than the safety of American troops. Otherwise how do you explain why the Danish cartoons weren't "newsworthy" and the WikiLeaks that put our military at risk are?

It's been a long time since the sort of people running the Times volunteered for military service. "Our kind" just don't do that these days.

It was not always this way. Our museums are filled with portraits of the leading sons of the leading families who led fateful charges, sometimes were harmed, sometimes returned to fame and fortune but all of whom did their part. Back in the day New York Times publisher, (1963-91) Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Sr. served in the Marine Corps during World War II, serving from 1944 to 1946.

A lot has changed since our political, business and academic leaders encouraged, even expected, their children to serve as part of the growing up process and as something that many Americans just did with the full support of their loved ones.

This is not a Democrat-Republican or Left/Right issue. It is a class issue -- successful coastal Republicans are as likely to be divorced from the military as left wing Democrats. Small town and middle class Democrats are more likely to have someone in the military in their extended social group than wealthy Republicans living in big cities.

The gap, between the opinion-makers -- the cultural, professional, and business elites -- and the military is harming us as a country now and may harm us to a far greater extent in the future. There has been a presumption that "other people" are handling that task just fine.

"Let's be clear. This disclosure is not just an attack on America -- it's an attack on the international community," Hillary Clinton said at a State Department news conference. Such leaks, she said, "tear at the fabric" of responsible government. "There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations," she added.

In an editorial the Times editors responded: "The claim by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the leaks threaten national security seems exaggerated."

If more Americans are killed in our never-ending misbegotten wars because it turns out that Clinton was right and the Times editors were wrong, there's one thing you can count on: the editors' own sons and daughters won't be the victims.

Maybe the Times and other respectable news outlets are right to publish the WikiLeaks. I think they may be. But their claim that they are only doing so because of the public's "right to know" rings hollow in the light of their selective willingness to take risks as great as they are willing to inflict on others.

If the Times really served the news first they would have also published the Danish cartoons. But then that would have put them at personal risk, something the class of people who run and own the our major media these days will never allow, a fact I explore in depth in my book, Keeping Faith, about the class divide related to military service and how it impacted me because of my own (rather shameful) shock when my son unexpectedly volunteered.

Personal risk of life and limb for one's country is something "our kind" just don't do these days.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps