Tuesday, December 27, 2005


How news gets disappeared

Danny Schechter comments in today's News Dissector:
Is this bizarre or what? Newspapers will not confirm meetings to their own reporters.
He is referring to newspapers refusing to confim that they have been called in to the White House for "secret" meetings with President Bush.

While "ethics" may not be taught in Journalism 101, it should be covered by Journalism 300 or thereabouts. There is also the Poynter Ethics Journal for those editors (and publishers) who have forgotten the basics. For example, in an article there by Kelly McBride: On the Dangers of Holding Back, the author advises in bold face type:
Cutting deals to withhold information is dangerous. It should be done with great caution, much forethought and only in rare circumstances.
Presidents would very much like to control the news, of course, and this president has perfected the art. But getting editors' cooperation to kill or hold a story is not just a Bush gambit. McBride mentions as an example the New York Times withholding of information on the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba in 1961, a decision that may have cost lives. There are more examples in this Columbia Journalism Review article: The Cost of not publishing.

Sure, holding back the news is pretty common, and there are often good reasons. But when newspapers let the government run their newsrooms, we have a huge ethical issue. Secret meetings at the White House to determine what shall be printed or when betray the public trust in its news media. And if they then refuse to confirm that the meetings took place, can there be anything left unshredded of that trust at all?

Was it also at a secret meeting that the New York Times editors decided to delay publishing the story about secret wiretaps conducted on US citizens without warrents? It seems likely that the story finally broke loose since a book is about to be released by Times reporter James Risen that includes information on the National Security Agency's spying program.

Schechter quotes an article by By Howard Kurtz, a Washington Post staff writer about the secret meetings. Go to Danny's article and have a peek at this, or to Kurtz's article which is here.


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