‘New York Times’ held back reporting on Levinson, too

Robert Levinson (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
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The New York Times revealed today that it, too, withheld reporting on Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who went missing in Iran in 2007 and was revealed by the Associated Press and Washington Post yesterday to have disappeared while on a rogue assignment for the C.I.A.

The Times revealed in its own story on the matter that it "has known about the former agent’s C.I.A. ties since late 2007, when a lawyer for the family gave a reporter access to Mr. Levinson’s files and emails.

"The Times withheld that information to avoid jeopardizing his safety or the efforts to free him. ... After Thursday’s disclosure, the Levinson family said it had no objection to The Times’s publishing this article."

ABC News also said today that it was one of "a number of other news organizations [that] had known of Levinson's ties to the CIA for years but were asked by the family and U.S. officials to hold off reporting them because it could put his life in danger."

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It's not uncommon for media organizations to withhold potentially dangerous information at the government's request.

In this case, the news outlets believed that publishing at this point was warranted because enough time had elapsed without any trace of Levinson, and because the revelations of a botched C.I.A. operation were in the public interest. But the decision to publish will no doubt further chill relations between the Obama administration and the press.