January 15, 2006

CITIZENS FIRST, THEN JOURNOS (via dick thompson):

Here's the news... we won't be broadcasting (John Simpson, 15/01/2006, Daily Telegraph)

In the early 1970s, when I was the BBC correspondent in Dublin, an IRA contact of mine asked me if I would be interested in visiting an IRA training camp in the mountains of County Wicklow. They were using a new type of weapon there, he said, and if we went there at the right moment I could see it for myself. But he would need money to set it up. Quite a lot of money.

That was the point at which my hopes of achieving a major scoop evaporated. The BBC doesn't go in for paying money to informants. Some months later, an American television team with fewer moral qualms went to the camp and filmed IRA volunteers being trained in the use of an RPG-7 rocket launcher, supplied by Libya: the first clear evidence that Colonel Gaddafi was helping the IRA. It was a big news story, and very much in the public interest. International pressure began to be exerted on Libya, and eventually it worked.

But suppose someone contacted me nowadays to ask if I were interested in visiting a camp in Britain, or anywhere else in the world where al-Qaeda volunteers were trained to use weapons or explosives. As a result of Clause 8 of the Terrorism Bill, which is at the moment making its way through Parliament, I would have to say No. You could go to jail for knowingly visiting a terrorist training camp. It will be no defence to tell the judge that you were there in the public interest.

According to Clause 8, it will be an offence to attend a place, in the UK or elsewhere, knowing or merely believing it to be used for training in terrorism. And you commit the offence simply by being there; you don't have to receive the training yourself.

Baroness Scotland, shepherding the Bill through the House of Lords shortly before Christmas, tried to be reassuring. "Concerns have been expressed about the effect of Clause 8 on legitimate investigative journalism," she said.

We grant the press extraordinary leeway because we believe it serves the public interest, not so that it can place its own business opportunities above the national security. This complaint call to mind an infamous exchange which features two of America's leading journalists disgracing themselves and their "profession" on PBS years ago:
In a future war involving U.S. soldiers what would a TV reporter do if he learned the enemy troops with which he was traveling were about to launch a surprise attack on an American unit? That's just the question Harvard University professor Charles Ogletree Jr, as moderator of PBS' Ethics in America series, posed to ABC anchor PeterJennings and 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace. Both agreed getting ambush footage for the evening news would come before warning the U.S. troops.

For the March 7 installment on battlefield ethics Ogletree set up a theoretical war between the North Kosanese and the U.S.-supported South Kosanese. At first Jennings responded: "If I was with a North Kosanese unit that came upon Americans, I think I personally would do what I could to warn the Americans."

Wallace countered that other reporters, including himself, "would regard it simply as another story that they are there to cover." Jennings' position bewildered Wallace: "I'm a little bit of a loss to understand why, because you are an American, you would not have covered that story."

"Don't you have a higher duty as an American citizen to do all you can to save the lives of soldiers rather than this journalistic ethic of reporting fact?" Ogletree asked. Without hesitating Wallace responded: "No, you don't have higher duty... you're a reporter." This convinces Jennings, who concedes, "I think he's right too, I chickened out."

Ogletree turns to Brent Scowcroft, now the National Security Adviser, who argues "you're Americans first, and you're journalists second." Wallace is mystified by the concept, wondering "what in the world is wrong with photographing this attack by North Kosanese on American soldiers?" Retired General William Westmoreland then points out that "it would be repugnant to the American listening public to see on film an ambush of an American platoon by our national enemy."

A few minutes later Ogletree notes the "venomous reaction" from George Connell, a Marine Corps Colonel. "I feel utter contempt. Two days later they're both walking off my hilltop, they're two hundred yards away and they get ambushed. And they're lying there wounded. And they're going to expect I'm going to send Marines up there to get them. They're just journalists, they're not Americans."

Wallace and Jennings agree, "it's a fair reaction." The discussion concludes as Connell says: "But I'll do it. And that's what makes me so contemptuous of them. And Marines will die, going to get a couple of journalists."

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 15, 2006 7:49 AM

"And they're going to expect I'm going to send Marines up there to get them. They're just journalists, they're not Americans."

And every body thinks that the p&i clause of the 14th amendment has no meanig if it does not incorporate Am 1,4,5,6&8.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 15, 2006 9:44 AM

I like the juxtaposition of stories you made with this article from the Telegraph.

What really bothered me about it was that the Baroness was amazed that they would think it OK to stick around when the subject of terrorism came up. She made it seem as if as soon as you mentioned terrorism it became something that should not be reported. Just how far into the sand should that ostrich stick its neck.

The thing is that if the reporters had been reporting the terrorism a long time ago and in the type of detail they should then we might not be in the mess we are in now. The stories would have told us what was going on and we could have maybe stopped the terrorists before now. Instead for too long the terrorists were portrayed almost as if they were Robin Hood characters. Think of Che as an example of this. He was a bloodthirsty terrorist with no moral compunctions but because this side of him was never reported people think of him as this great savior of his country.

I just can't believe how wrong-headed I think this policy the Baroness and her people are trying to implement. People sometimes just amaze me.

Posted by: dick at January 15, 2006 10:03 AM

Dick: We all saw the African embassies and we all saw the Cole. I don't remember a groundswell for going into Afghanistan.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 15, 2006 1:13 PM

Unfortunatly, the Wallace concept leads to the kind of reporting Dick is referring to regarding Che and the rest; some of it bordering on sedition IMHO. Westmoreland had it partially right, as usual. However the fact is in his war and this one, there are some who would try to suppress a smile as they see it as justification of their dissidence.

Posted by: Genecis at January 15, 2006 1:33 PM

" We all saw the African embassies and we all saw the Cole. I don't remember a groundswell for going into Afghanistan."

It's called leadership. If Clinton had chose to, he could have laid out a series of reasons to justify action, and then taken them.The (GOP Controlled) Congress would have huffed-and-puffed, but ultimate gone along, because not only would it have been the proper thing to do, but Clinton would have easily have gotten the necessary popular support.

But it wasn't important to him,so he put his leadership to better use: for baiting Republicans and adding names to his little black book while his administration coasted to a stop.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at January 15, 2006 10:20 PM
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