Loose Lips in the Pressroom

by | Oct 16, 2002

Since when did being a journalist mean forgetting your responsibilities as a human being? If you think I’m being too harsh on today’s press, consider the coverage of the Beltway Sniper attacks. It goes beyond just publishing leaked information about messages left by the killer at the crime scene. If you tune in to live […]

Since when did being a journalist mean forgetting your responsibilities as a human being?

If you think I’m being too harsh on today’s press, consider the coverage of the Beltway Sniper attacks. It goes beyond just publishing leaked information about messages left by the killer at the crime scene. If you tune in to live coverage of the shootings, you can see television networks broadcasting the crime scene investigation, zooming in when a deputy picks up a piece of paper left on the ground. Might that piece of paper be an important clue? If it is, the killer now knows the police have it.

Monday night, I watched a cable broadcast — live, of course — of a press conference with an investigator of the latest shooting in Falls Church, Va. Reporters badgered him with detailed questions about what direction police believed the killer fled, about what highway he took, about the sighting of a police bloodhound on that highway. None of these are details the press should want to publish or broadcast, even if police were so foolish as to reveal them. It is likely that the Beltway Sniper watches television and listens to news radio. Indeed, the press attention is probably part of the motive for his crimes. Don’t these reporters realize they might be giving away facts that will help the killer get away — that if he knows police are tracking him with bloodhounds along a certain highway, he might use that knowledge to escape?

Yes, investigators sometimes use the press to release information they think will be useful in generating tips. But investigators should be allowed to decide what to release and when. And yes, it is the job of the press to inform the public so that they can evaluate, eventually, how well police conducted the investigation. But the press has no business obstructing the investigation. Yes, the responsibility of the press is to tell us the truth — but in the service of a larger goal: justice. We need to know the truth so we can make evaluations about what is best for the country, about the right actions to take, about who is qualified to be trusted with leadership. It is this larger responsibility that the press is betraying.

In this case, the motive is mere mindless sensationalism: the desire to draw attention to yourself by beating the other guy to every new tidbit of information, no matter what the consequences. But the graver consequences of an irresponsible press can be seen in their coverage of the war. The leaking of sensitive facts in the Beltway Sniper investigation is paralleled by the leaking of everything from grand strategy to specific war plans against Iraq.

These leaks are not likely to decide the course of the war. One of my favorite images from the Gulf War was an editorial cartoon that showed Saddam Hussein watching live coverage on CNN of the view from the nose camera of a “smart” missile — which, as it closed in on him, showed Saddam watching that same image on CNN. Our military capacity is so superior that even if Saddam knows what we plan to do, he has no power to prevent it. But the leaking of war plans will help Iraq build up its defenses, likely causing more of our soldiers to die — deaths that would then be reported, in sensational detail, by the very same newspapers that released the war plans in the first place.

The motive of this irresponsible war reporting is even worse — it is not the carelessness of sensationalism, but the conscious evil of pacifism. The obvious motive for leaking a top-secret military plan is to kill the plan — to make it unusable because its details have already been tipped to the enemy. Meanwhile, note that the press does not show the same vigor in digging up stories about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program, his torture and murder of dissidents, or his threatened attacks on Israel. Exposing the alleged danger of the administration’s policy is considered more important than showing us the real danger of Saddam’s aggression.

But even if the press were just a neutral and impartial reporter of facts, this in itself is the problem. There is a war going on between the forces of civilization and the forces of barbarism, whether the barbarians are domestic serial killers or foreign dictators. Anyone who pretends to be neutral — while reporting information that helps the killers — is putting himself on the side of the barbarians.

Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to TIADaily.com and enter your email address.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

Have a comment?

Post your response in our Capitalism Community on X.

Related articles

Are the Democrats betraying Israel?

Are the Democrats betraying Israel?

Both Biden and his predecessor, President Barack Obama, promised that they had Israel’s back, but it now appears that they are painting a target on its back at a time of its greatest vulnerability.

Memorial Day: What We Owe Our Soldiers

Memorial Day: What We Owe Our Soldiers

To send soldiers into war without a clear self-defense purpose, and without providing them every possible protection, is a betrayal of their valor and a violation of their rights.

No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.

Pin It on Pinterest