Plenty of folks are angry at The New York Times because of its continual publication of previously secret elements in the Bush administration’s campaign against terrorism.

Some even call for prosecution of “The Gray Old Lady.” This article makes the latest case for legal action.

As an occasional member of the Fourth Estate, I disagree. Yes, the newspaper harmed the fight against terror. Yes, Times editors are unrepentant Bush bashers with no sense of objectivity. Yes, your vocal complaints about the Times‘ agenda are warranted.

But the vital role of the media in our society is to check government excess. The government cannot decide what’s excessive. The media decides.

The corollary of this argument is that consumers of the media decide when reporters and editors overstep their bounds. They vote with their pocketbooks. Rush Limbaugh and other commentators often tell us that conservative voices are now holding their own with the “mainstream” or “drive-by” media. That’s good. We can read other publications, watch other channels, and read other blogs and websites to learn how the Times took the wrong approach.

Rather than taking the media to court, I agree wholeheartedly with this tangential point in the linked article:

Even more important, the leakers inside government of the various classified programs should be investigated and prosecuted. Those who violate their oaths to protect secrets are taking the law into their own hands and putting the rest of us at risk. Far from being admirable “whistle-blowers,” the leakers are, for the most part, rather cowardly. Their insistence on the cloak of anonymity means that they are all too willing to jeopardize the security of their country but unwilling to jeopardize the progress of their careers.

These are the people whose duty requires them to protect the nation’s secrets.