Friday Mailbag: Spilled Beans, Monochrome Faces and Renegade Readers

Yet by that afternoon, The Times did name the ally: Israel.

The reversal befuddled a number of readers.

Why did the Times ultimately reveal that Israel was the source of the intelligence when the crux of the initial story was that President Trump’s leak of info was so damaging because it made it possible for the Russians to figure out who the source was? Indeed, on the morning podcast the reporter, who seemed to know the source, was specifically not revealing it.

Leslie Werstein Hann, Glen Gardner, N.J.

We asked Joe Kahn, the managing editor, to help clarify The Times’s thinking.

It’s a fair question. We did in fact hold off naming Israel as the source of the intelligence the first day. The second day several reporters pressed for answers as to why we should hold off. The answers we were given by several senior officials were boilerplate and off the record. We asked for greater detail about the ways this information could cause problems and no detail was forthcoming. While we named Israel as the source, we did not discuss specifics of how the intelligence was gathered. So there were unconvincing reasons for not publishing. There were also convincing reasons in favor of publishing. For one, Israel is particularly wary of Russia, which has close relationships with Iran and Syria, avowed enemies of Israel. Second, Trump is on his way to Israel for his first major overseas trip. So for reasons involving diplomacy and relations with a crucial ally, we considered the fact that Israel was the source to be newsworthy and in the public interest.

The public editor’s take: I agree. It’s a good question and a helpful response. It’s hard to withhold relevant information if the government isn’t providing a compelling reason to do so.

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