BROOKE GLADSTONE: I'm Brooke Gladstone. This week a staggering spy story. Robert Philip Hanssen was apparently caught passing secret documents to the Russians. The arrest of Hanssen appears to have ended a 15 year career in espionage that may have resulted in the deaths of two Russian double agents. It was thoroughly covered by everyone including the New York Times.
BOB GARFIELD:This put us in the mind of the last time the Times gave star treatment to an alleged spy. It was March of 1999, and the accused was a scientist named Wen Ho Lee. Lee was suspected of passing American nuclear secrets to China and a series of articles citing unnamed officials condemned Lee. The man was fired and jailed, but the charges never stuck. The newspaper eventually offered a qualified apology. We thought it might be interesting to compare how the Times handled both cases using a few key criteria.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Like reference to place of birth. In its first story naming Lee the Times used the phrase Taiwan-born in the first sentence and repeatedly in the stories that followed.
BOB GARFIELD: In Hanssen's case the 18th paragraph in a sidebar story mentions he was born in Chicago.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:As historical precedents in Lee's case the Times cited two other Taiwan-born scientists who were also suspected of spying and another scientist named Lee - no relation - who was convicted. Also the Rosenbergs.
BOB GARFIELD: For Hanssen, they cited Aldrich Ames.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: For hard evidence on Lee the Times mentioned two lie detector tests; the second suggested he was being deceptive.
BOB GARFIELD:The hard evidence on Hanssen included incriminating letters, fingerprints on a garbage bag that contained bribe money, and the fact that he was arrested minutes after he had dropped off a bag of classified documents.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The circumstantial evidence on Lee included his refusal to cooperate with investigators, his wife's tendency to invite herself to gatherings at the lab with Chinese delegations, official trips to China, and a reference to an unnamed scientist who used to take pencils home to his kids.
BOB GARFIELD:No circumstantial evidence cited for Hanssen but did I mention the incriminating letters, the fingerprints on the bag of money and the stolen documents? It's amazing how different two spy stories can look when one of them is reported completely on the record.