With the New York Times almost begging for a criminal prosecution, I have to wonder if there isn't something up the sleeves of Bill Keller and Arthur Otis Sulzberger, Jr. This makes twice in about six months that they have gone and blown classified programs that involve the intelligence community - in both cases, leading to arguments in favor of prosecuting some reporters and editors under the Espionage Act. But that may be just what Keller and Sulzberger want.
It could very well be a political/legal version of the "trap" play. For those who are not football fans, here is a quick run-down. A "trap" play is one in which an offensive lineman retreats - and entices the defensive lineman to come charging through what seems to be a clear lane into the backfield. At that point, another offensive lineman pulls, and blocks the defensive lineman, leaving the kind of hole that a running back (like Walter Payton) could go through and turn into six points.
The "trap" here is the fact that a prosecution could shift a lot of the dynamics on the battlefield of public opinion. The New York Times has come out on the bad end of more than one tangle recently. Circulation is declining, and so are stock values are declining due to the present dynamics, which are hard to spin in favor of this news outlet.
However, start prosecuting, and then the battlefield shifts - because it is no longer just an abstract question of leakers being prosecuted. This time, it would be reporters in the dock facing life terms. The mainstream media will close ranks around one of its most distinguished members - and the resulting fight could be extremely ugly when the dust settles.
Keller and Sulzberger are not stupid people - despite what seems like stupid decisions to run stories. They have to have noticed over the past nine months that a portion of the President's political base is more interested having a major battle with the Left - and being able to thump their chest about a stand on principle - than whether a given fight is a good idea. They have seen the base succeed in the Miers nomination and DPW's acquisition of P&O's operations at ports in the United States, as well as their obstinance over immigration.
In other words, they want to force the Administration into a battle that will rapidly be spun into an assault on freedom of the press. That is a battle that will rapidly be lost - because the media will be at it with everything they have. The ink wouldn't be bought by the barrel, it would be purchased by the truckload.
The leaks need to be stopped - but the real task is to stop them without falling for the "trap" play.