TITLE

Revealing a Reporter's Relationship With Secrecy and Sources

AUTHOR(S)
Gellman, Barton
PUB. DATE
June 2004
SOURCE
Nieman Reports;Summer2004, Vol. 58 Issue 2, p40
SOURCE TYPE
Periodical
DOC. TYPE
Article
ABSTRACT
The article elaborates how a reporter handles classified information in reporting on war and weapons. Hard questions about government secrecy involve a clash of core values. Call them self-preservation and self-government. Secrecy corrodes self-government, just as it strengthen self-defense. Both interests reach peak performance in time of war. Consider the debate of the moment in hypothetical form. Suppose the president lied about Iraq's nonconventional weapons and thereby took the nation to war in Iraq by a kind of fraud. There is nothing like enough evidence on the public record to prove that charge. There is nothing like enough evidence to refute it, either. Opening files would resolve the mystery but undoubtedly carry high costs. It might put the safety of human sources at risk, reveal enough about intelligence methods to enable their defeat, compromise ongoing operations, or warn enemies of operations to come. Withholding the evidence, on the other hand, renders citizens unable to judge what may be the most consequential act of this presidency. National security secrecy presents us with a conflict of core values--self-government and self-defense. Wartime heightens the case for secrecy because the value of security is at its peak. But secrecy is never more damaging to self-government than in wartime, because making war is the very paradigm of a political choice. To find out government secrets, some reporters use the reporting by hypothesis process or in military term, scientific wild-ass guess. A lot of what they learn has to do with organization charts, the language and background of specialists, the trajectory of careers, the process of bureaucratic decision making, the equipment and methods of people who do things they write about, the history of an issue, the relationships and rivalries of individuals. INSET: Making Decisions About What to Publish.
ACCESSION #
13532538

 

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