It is distressing that the President is presented today as “defending” the international banking program that tracks terrorist money-he should be so obviously on the warpath against the New York Times for tipping off the terrorists that the newspaper is forced to acknowledge that.

Actually, the headline on the electric version of the story has Bush “denouncing” the New York Times disclosure, which is better. Still, columnist James Pinkerton suggests that the Gray Lady has turned Bush yellow(kusos to the author of the headline):

“[W]hy hasn’t the Bush administration done anything? One answer, of course, is that the wheels of justice grind slow – and unseen, at least for a while. But a better answer comes from Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who argues that the Bush administration has been ‘intimidated’ by the media and by allied critics in Congress. That would explain the Boston Globe story on Monday, detailing how the Bushies, who once asserted that the phone taps were perfectly legal just the way they were, are now willing to accept closer Congressional supervision. So score a media-political victory for the Times.

“And so the Gray Lady has every reason to think it will win this latest battle, too. The fate of the war on terror, of course, is another story – but the Times is too busy crushing George W. Bush to worry much about that.”

Rep. Peter King of New York has called for legal prosecution of the Times. Satisfying, no doubt, but maybe not the right avenue to redress the newspaper’s treachery. I never thought I’d refer to swashbuckling, straw-hatted Washington Times editor Wes Pruden (who is always a delight to read!) as a cooler head, but he is right about how to deal with the problem:

“When hysterics get on a horse, they usually ride off in three directions at once. Cooler heads prevail. ‘I think it’s premature to call for a prosecution of the New York Times,’ Sen. Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says. ‘Just like I think it’s premature to say that the administration is entirely correct.’

    “The president makes a good case, however, that searches of millions of records of international financial transactions were not only legal, but necessary to find and prosecute terrorists who are dedicated to killing thousands of Americans and destroying the nation if they can. ‘The people’s right to know,’ weighed against another national catastrophe, is not very persuasive. The searches of the records of 7,800 financial institutions in more than 200 countries were not aimed at ordinary Americans, but at suspected or known terrorists – ‘a sharp harpoon,’ in the colorful description of Treasury Secretary John Snow, ‘aimed at the heart of terrorist activity.’

    “The justification offered by Mr. Keller and the New York Times, that the ‘people’s right to know’ outweighed the national-security concerns, is not persuasive at all. Better to err on the side of caution, even if you are the New York Times, than put at risk the survival and safety of us all. If Mr. King and the Justice Department want to make someone pay at the end of a rope, they should go after the leakers. Hanging an editor might be more fun, but plugging the leak would do more good.”