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Information Delayed, Information Denied?

It's hard to figure out which debate stemming from this morning's New York Times exclusive is going to prove more important and longer lasting -- the one over civil liberties or the one over media-government cooperation. Once, the Gray Lady and the federal government went to war over the Pentagon Papers. Today the "paper of record" acknowledged it waited a year to disclose the fact that President Bush secretly authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans without first obtaining a court warrant:
"The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted."
The media is often caught in a damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don't situation when dealing with sensitive information like this. If the government is arguing that publication of such a story is harmful to national security interests, they risk hurting the country and being pilloried as anti-patriotic if they run with it. If they hold off, they're seen as tools of the administration and accused of violating their compact with the American public.

The Times gives no explanation as to why, after a year, they felt the story was ready to run now. They're under no obligation to explain their news judgment but it is curious to note that the story ran just a day or so after NBC News reported on a Pentagon program that secretly monitored various groups in the U.S.

Aside from the details of the story, the question we're interested in is this: When, if ever, is it appropriate for media organizations to withhold a story due to concerns of the government (or any institution really) and how much of an explanation does that organization owe the public if it does so? The Times should be applauded for telling us they held off for a year but it seems to beg for more as to why.

I think there are certainly circumstances when information should be withheld (not revealing troop positions on the battlefield for example), but there had better be good reasons and the more we know about those reasons the more comfortable we can be with the lack of information.

What's your take?