Thrawn Rickle 34

Press Responsibility

© 1993 Williscroft

Freedom of the press is a cherished American tradition and one of the major foundations of the freedom we enjoy in this country. Most Americans understand that every freedom we enjoy carries a commensurate responsibility. Nevertheless, as I have observed press coverage of the Gulf conflict, I begin to wonder if the American press corps fully understands this principle.

During a recent Scud missile attack on Tel Aviv, several individuals were severely injured - some died. The attack came during darkness, while people slept. Many expected incoming missiles to be stopped by newly installed defense systems. The unexpected explosion was, therefore, even more devastating.

Rescue personnel desperately worked to save the lives of injured civilians, hampered by fallen building parts, spraying water from broken mains, exposed electrical wiring, the possibility of gas—domestic and poison, and by the news media. Reporters and cameras were everywhere in the ensuing melee. Rescue workers vainly attempted to keep reporters outside the immediate scene of action. Gushing wounds, severe trauma, heart failures—these kinds of problems require total concentration of effort by emergency medical people. Those heroes did not need a camera thrust into the face of a dying victim.

The world has a right to know, but only when that right does not interfere with saving lives and immediate damage control.

Another aspect of news media irresponsibility is the adversarial role it has assumed with respect to our military’s prosecution of the Gulf war. I remind news media members that they are not journalists who happen to be Americans, they are Americans who happen to be journalists. The successful prosecution of this war with minimum loss of American life is not only the military’s concern, it is the concern of all Americans, including members of the news media.

I am tired of whining journalistic response to security restrictions on reporting. A journalist has no more right than any other individual to know the specifics of a particular operation. The reasons for security restrictions on certain kinds of information are patently obvious. It takes neither keen intellect nor special understanding to comprehend this.

A reporter who ferrets out a piece of military intelligence and reports it, the network that carries the report, and the news media members who applaud these efforts—all are equally responsible and should be held accountable for any ensuing advantage to the enemy or damage to American interests; and should a single American be hurt or killed resulting from this irresponsible behavior, the culpable individuals should be brought to swift justice.

Freedom of speech does not grant license to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, and neither does freedom of the press grant any right to endanger American lives recklessly and irresponsibly.

It is past time for American citizens to explain these simple facts clearly and succinctly to those members of the press corps who seem to have missed several important lessons in their high school civics classes.

We are neither amused nor impressed. Get your collective acts together!