Is The Media's "Whining" About Access Justified?
October 17, 2001 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Is The Media's "Whining" About Access Justified? A journalist criticizes his colleagues: "The disconnect between the U.S. media and the public they purport to serve has turned into a virtual chasm in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks." What are/should be the limits on the ability of the press to obtain unfettered information in sensitive times?
posted by pardonyou? (10 comments total)
[I first read this article in an actual (potentially anthrax-laden) paper version of today’s Detroit Free Press. I decided to post when I saw it linked over at Romenesko’s Media News]

FWIW, I think the media’s tactic is similar to the gun lobby’s: oppose every possible restriction, or else you’ll end up on the slippery slope that invariably leads to total censorship. But I think that kind of inflexibility causes both sides of the issue to polarize, preventing any sort of reasonable compromise. I wouldn’t go as far as the author in adopting a position of total deference to the government, but there are certain things that have to be kept confidential. And it’s not like government secrecy is unprecedented or even unusual; as an example, the press and the public obviously do not have access to the government’s evidence relating to pending criminal matters. The military shouldn’t have to lay its cards on the table in this situation.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:36 AM on October 17, 2001

I am a huge advocate of the public's right to know, but honestly I am so sick and tired of the media trying to serve up speculation as news that I don't blame the Bush Administration one bit for trying to keep the media from screwing things up.

Since the September 11 attacks I have seen it go from bad to worse. Every show I have watched (morning, evening, special, etc) has been a pathetic display of "journalist" asking leading questions that requires the person being interviewed to speculate.

Example :^)

Fictitious Interviewer: "If the people who are sending Anthrax in the mail are not caught, isn't it possible that they can then steal the space shuttle and pour this deadly microbe all over the children of the United States while they are at recess?!"

Fictitious Interviewee: " Err... well, I suppose that anything is possible...but.. "

Fictitious Interviewer: "You heard it hear first folks. Terrorist may have planned to steal the space shuttle and disperse Anthrax over our nation's children. God help us, and pass the Cipro."
posted by terrapin at 11:48 AM on October 17, 2001

I also meant to mention a funny bit on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night where one of the show's "correspondants" was complaining about this issue and noted that because of the restrictions, he'd have to actually go gather facts himself -- "I'm a reporter! That's not my job! People are supposed to do that for me!"
posted by pardonyou? at 11:59 AM on October 17, 2001

"[W]ere it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." Thomas Jefferson, 1787
posted by Carol Anne at 12:06 PM on October 17, 2001

Now that the US government has bought the rights to all private satellite images of Afghanistan and surrounding areas, CNN and other reporters may have even fewer outlets for their information. Ikonos images were used heavily by the media during the China-EP3 crisis.
posted by tamim at 12:15 PM on October 17, 2001

Carol Anne, Thomas Jefferson never had to read USA Today. More to the point, we're not faced with the Hobson's choice contemplated by Jefferson -- no one's saying "government or media." Like I said above, there's no need to assume that some confidentiality should be equated with total government censorship.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:23 PM on October 17, 2001

I believe that journalists should have as much access as possible (as full disclosure, I also happen to be a journalist) but assure you that there are accepted limits on what can be reported (ie. if something is in the interest of national security, the government can prevent the press from covering it)... In most situations though, there is plenty the press is not told.
posted by drezdn at 12:50 PM on October 17, 2001

Thank God for the internet. American journalism is so cowed by the Administration. I get all my good news, that I pass around, from outside the USA. The American media seems to have taken as big a hit on 9/11 as the government. But it doesn't matter. No matter who tries to muzzle the media, the internet genie will not let it happen. Freedom of the press, Democracy and civilization may be crushed in the real world, but on the internet, IT LIVES.
posted by slowlightning at 5:45 PM on October 17, 2001

And it’s not like government secrecy is unprecedented or even unusual

Nor, sadly, its abuse of same.
posted by rushmc at 6:01 PM on October 17, 2001

American journalism is so cowed by the Administration.

I think this statement is incredibly true... But it goes back to the issue raised by the original post... The public seems to think if journalists analyze the actions of government too deeply then they are being unpatriotic, or supporting the terrorists in some unknown way.

Journalism should work with out regard for what the public wants. It should be an attempt to dig out facts, regardless of what the government or the public thinks. A reasonable argument could be made that journalists shouldn't tell where troops are going to go... But after troops have done something, journalists should find out about it and report it...

The British Press has seemed far less constrained than the American Press, and we are both fighting together...
posted by drezdn at 6:39 PM on October 17, 2001

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