Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Duty of Correspondents

I recently came across an editorial policy statement by a major New York City newspaper. It was startling in its emphasis on the duty of war correspondents not to report information that could compromise the operations of troops in the field. It was so at variance with the attitudes of correspondents and editors we see in the press every day that I thought you might like to read parts of it:

The result of newspaper correspondents [reporting] information respecting the future movements of our forces, and whatever they hear from the lips of rumor, is bad, not only for the Commander-in-Chief and his lieutenants, but the press generally, for the publication of these plans is not only annoying, but necessitates a change in them, which, of course, falsifies the statements originally put forward, and so brings the newspapers into discredit. Hence arises the multitude of false rumors of which we hear, the numerous changes in the movements of our troops, and the growing prejudice against correspondents of the press at military headquarters. It is obviously necessary that the plans of our generals should remain secret to the enemy till such time as they are put into execution, and if these plans are published by the...press in anticipation, such secrecy is impossible. Therefore we wish to discourage as much as possible our correspondents from communicating anything that they may hear respecting the future movements of the army. ... Let our correspondents, when they receive such information, however valuable they may think it, resist the temptation to [report] it.... By so doing they will be acting like good patriots. All that we want is a prompt, full and accurate report of whatever movement or actions actually has taken place. We want the actual news of today, and not what is probable to occur tomorrow. The utmost despatch in communicating unalterable facts will be far more appreciated than any quantity of rumors concerning them in advance.

This editorial policy was issued by The New York Herald on June 22, 1861. Imagine. The editors didn't want information reported that might damage the army in the field. They didn't want correspondents looked upon with disfavor in military headquarters, and they didn't want to cause false rumors. And most startling of all, they wanted their correspondents to act "like good patriots."

I don't delude myself that in 1861 all newspapers were as responsible and as concerned for the welfare of their country as The Herald was. But I think they all would be appalled if they could see the scramble by the media today to steal and publish classified information whenever possible. I think they all would be sickened by the refusal of so many in the American media today to recognize loyalty to country as an obligation or patriotism as a valid concept.

6 Comments:

Blogger A Boy Named Sue said...

woo hoo, you go!

6:15 AM, June 29, 2005  
Blogger carla said...

I'm curious...do you have some sort of evidence that journalists today are working antithetically to the military?

Especially given the fact that Bush deliberately put journalists in with military units (embed...our new favorite vernacular), it seems odd to now look back and complain that somehow they shouldn't be reporting.

12:14 PM, June 29, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

But I think they all would be appalled if they could see the scramble by the media today to steal and publish classified information whenever possible.

I know I am.

7:46 PM, June 29, 2005  
Blogger John Walter said...

Carla:

Like, do we have any evidence of Geraldo Rivera getting sent home after clearly violating the trust placed upon him in his embed position by outlining troop movements on television?

Or like, do we have evidence of Dan Rather boot licking with Saddam Hussein on TV just before the war and Peter Arnette doing the same during the war?

Or like, do we have evidence that CNN admitted after the fall of Bagdad that they purposely decided not to report on some of the crimes they knew had been committed by Saddam Hussein because they didn't want to be kicked out of Iraq?

Or like, do we have evidence of reporters in all the major networks plus CNN daily describing the war as a quagmire during the phase when the USMC and US Army were performing the most rapid, long range advance against armed resistance in military history?

Or like, do we have evidence of the networks sitting on a story for a year about possible missed munitions at an ammo dump south of Bagdad and then publicizing it one week before the 2004 presidential elections for the specific purpose of creating an "October Surprise?"

And then dropping the story immediately after the elections?

Or like, do we have evidence that an embed cameraman with the Marines during the Battle of Fallujah filmed part of a house clearing operation and aired the tape without putting it in context, so that it gave the false impression that Marines were purposely shooting prisoners when they weren't?

Or like, do we have evidence that an embed reporter at a Q&A session between the Secretary of Defence and National Guard troops in Iraq abused his postition by planting questions on a couple of trusting soldiers to embarrass the SecDef?

Or like, do we have evidence of Newsweek reporters leaking Pentagon information about Gitmo that caused riots across Islam and then turned out to be false?

Carla, the only thing that "seems odd" (as you say) is the notion that there is anybody who can't see a serious bias toward defeatism in the war reporting done by the MSM.

8:44 PM, June 29, 2005  
Blogger Zipcard2 said...

Tom, I have a question for you. One blogger to another. Actually, one American to another. When I see President Bush, I see a sincere man, one who believes in his country and loves his people. I don't see all the evil things that others (dems/liberals) see. I truly believe he is honest and is a good man.
What do you think of him? Politics put aside if possible.
Just wondering.

Zipcard2

5:10 AM, June 30, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Carla, what John said. I don't see how a reasonable person wouldn't see the anti-US, anti-military biases evident in much of the major media. Many journalists really do see themselves as being above the law and free of obligations to their country.

Zipcard2, that's an interesting question. I've often thought about President Bush simply as a man, with the strengths and weaknesses we all have. To put it in just a few words, I think he's what he appears to be, for the most part. He's honest, direct, strong, spiritual, and intelligent. He also has proven courage and physical skill, demonstrated by the fact that he was a successful military pilot, something very few people can achieve. He's unfortunately lacking in eloquence, and that leads some to underestimate his intelligence. I think he's also sometimes too uncompromising, although that can be overstated and often is by people who don't understand the basics of leadership. From a political standpoint, he's not my favorite president. I disagree with quite a few of his policy positions. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I respect him and support him in the broader sense because he's the President of the United States.

5:33 AM, June 30, 2005  

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