Revealing a Reporter's Relationship With Secrecy and Sources

Gellman, Barton
June 2004
Nieman Reports;Summer2004, Vol. 58 Issue 2, p40
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.


Related Articles

  • GLOATING AND BIASED JOURNALISM.  // Quadrant Magazine;May2003, Vol. 47 Issue 5, p2 

    Editorial. Discusses the presence of gloating in reporting events of the U.S.-led war on Iraq in March 2003. Incidents which serve as reasons for gloating of anti-war groups; Observations on the lack of reliable information in war reporting; Concerns on the use of images of dead and injured...

  • From first to last in Iraq? Anderson, Dennis // Editor & Publisher;5/26/2003, Vol. 136 Issue 21, p7 

    Presents an article on covering the 2003 U.S.-led war in Iraq. Description of the shootings between Iraqi and U.S. soldiers; Preparations made in the middle of the coverage; Lessons learned from the experience.

  • Government Control of Information. Sunstein, Cass R. // California Law Review;May86, Vol. 74 Issue 3, p889 

    Explores whether equilibrium theory accommodates the need for secrecy and the goal of ensuring citizen deliberation about issues of public importance. Reasons for government secrecy; Discussion on the Jeffersonian concept of free speech; Reasons for the suppression of government information.

  • Jayson Blair's World, and Iraq. Zinsmeister, Karl // American Enterprise;Jul/Aug2003, Vol. 14 Issue 5, p4 

    Focuses on poor reporting. Information on the case of reporter Jayson Blair who fabricated stories, quotes and facts; Views of U.S. people on the U.S. war with Iraq; Findings of studies about mass media.

  • Doubt and Derision Over Baghdad. Rollins, Karina // American Enterprise;Jul/Aug2003, Vol. 14 Issue 5, p22 

    Comments on reporting about the U.S. war with Iraq. U.S. television networks that covered the war; Opposition of journalist Peter Jennings to the war; Examples of misleading reporting; Case of media representation.

  • INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING--ONLINE.  // Quill;Jul2003, Vol. 91 Issue 5, p46 

    Acknowledges the efforts of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in its 2002 online investigative report that examined international business behind war. Details of the investigation conducted; Strategies used in the process of putting together the report.

  • Isn't War Glorious!  // America;5/14/1921, Vol. 25 Issue 4, p87 

    The author reflects on the glories of war. He argues that if both sides or all sides have equally destructive weapons, no war can last very long, thus giving the combatants brief agony. It is on this line of thinking that the author aired his concern about the presence of military gas tank in...

  • The Easy War. Starr, Paul // American Prospect;Mar2003, Vol. 14 Issue 3, p21 

    Comments on the possible scenario of war between the U.S. and Iraq. History of wars fought by the U.S.; Assurance of an easy war with Iraq by the U.S. government; Technological edge of the U.S. when it comes to weaponry.

  • Arms flowing from Syria into Lebanon as Hizbullah stocks up for renewed conflict.  // Geo-Strategy Direct;9/6/2006, p1 

    The article reports on a number of weapons shipped from Syria and Iran into Lebanon. Hizbullah fired about 4,000 rockets into Israel during the war. According to Israeli military intelligence chief Major General Amos Yadlin, most of the weapons used by the organization against Israel came from...


Read the Article


Sorry, but this item is not currently available from your library.

Try another library?
Sign out of this library

Other Topics