August 13, 2004
What if Everything Changed for American Journalists on September 11th? My Speculations.
What individual exceptions there are I don't know--I am sure they exist, and I would love to hear from them--but on the whole the American press has not seen fit to start its own story over after the attacks of 2001, just to see if "journalism" comes out in the same place, if "ethics" are the ones that were adequate before, if duty to nation looks the same, if observerhood still fits.
This pissy drivel will unite people who, in a peaceable time, would stand on opposite sides of political issues. Don’t fret the strife you see in the daily papers. The dissenters, unbound as usual, will ruin their cause. A great red line will run diagonally across the political landscape, uniting people who, in peaceable times, had the luxury to disagree over issues of rarified nuance. You’ll make friends on the other side of the aisle, and this will teach you the folly of assuming X because someone believes Y.
James Lileks, one year after, September 11, 2002.
This will not be your typical PressThink post. It’s not occasioned by anything brewing in the news, it doesn’t have many links. This is about September 11th and what it did to the American press— no, what it undid. Here I engage in speculation. I go beyond my authority and all bounds of expertise. There is no one to stop me, so I try to re-explain the world for you in 2,300 words or less.
I am one of those people who had no trouble saying at the time that everything changed for Americans on the day of the Al Queda attacks. To me it’s more true now than when I first felt it, at night on the 11th, trying like people everywhere to recover my wits, attempting sleep about 35 blocks from where the Towers went down.
It is fruitless to ask the normal questions someone with a PhD might ask about a truth claim like: “everything changed on September 11th.” This is a statement not open to proof or refutation. It doesn’t really have evidence corresponding to the reach of its own ideas. What it means, I think, comes down to:
We have to start the story over, people. We’re in a new here and now.
That means re-explain the world to ourselves. It might look like it, but “everything’s changed after 09/11” does not mean everything is different in your world because of this one terrible event— and you better realize it, or deluded be your design.
It means when you get done accounting for the magnitude of the event, and go through all the shocks to all the systems (including your own explanations of the world); when you draw the reckoning forward from the 11th, into the wars—in Afghanistan and Iraq, against terror everywhere—where we are now engaged, then all the explanations and ideas you nursed along through events prior to September 11th, 2001 don’t explain as much as they once did.
After a crash, you start up the computer again, but it doesn’t work the same way. Is it the machine? Or does it just have more to compute?
When you actually make the effort, and start the story over, you never end up in exactly the same place. Everyone knows we’re in a new situation as a nation, and in some ways radically new across the world. Though everyone knows, we can’t forget it, which is another way of saying we have to try daily to imagine it, though normal life resumes, and practices its newsy deceptions.
What do you recall? I recall how much that was adequate in my own understanding on September 10th, I found useless by the morning of the 12th; and people who say things like, “everything changed on nine eleven” are not so much September 11th people as they are struck by a strangeness recalled from the morning of the 12th. I am one of them. We think there was a rupture.
Like the larger claim from which it derives, everything changed for American journalists on September 11th is not really open to proof or refutation. I believe it’s true, and I think the failure to reckon with it is preventing what might be historic progress in professional self-definition for the people who bring Americans their news, and who try to capture in their accounts our life and times.
What individual exceptions there are I do not know—I am sure they exist, and I would love to hear from them—but on the whole, I believe, the American press did not see fit to start its own story over after the attacks. It did not re-explain the world to journalism (or vice versa) just to see if all the press think fits from before the unbelievable blue of that day.
When we’re in a permanent state of war against terror, are ethics the same kind of ethics that were adequate in journalism before we realized the war had come? Do law and reason, truth and obligation, news and opinion, politics and statecraft, citizenship and loyalty, information and ideology, conflict and dissent mean what they meant before the planes hit? Do you report on war, politics, diplomacy, elections with the same templates? Or is something decisively different?
I say the press did not start its own story over after the attacks. And I submit into evidence (even though it proves nothing) this moment from The Newhour with Jim Lehrer almost a year after the Al Queda strike. The subject was “the impact of 9/11 on news organizations.” Howell Raines, then the editor of the New York Times, was a guest:
TERENCE SMITH: Is your mission or role or obligation at this stage on this story, and the related aspects of it, different in the wake of 9/11? We are dealing with an amorphous thing called “a war on terrorism.” Is it different?
HOWELL RAINES: No. I think not in the…if we’re talking fundamentals here. We have an intellectual contract with our readers, which is we’ll tell you what we know when we know it, within a framework of intellectual testing for soundness and information and within obviously the boundaries of law, and in certain cases, whether national security interests are involved.
Hear what he said? Nothing fundamentally different in the mission after 09/11. Intellectual contract with readers is basically unchanged: we’ll tell you what we know, unless national security prevents it. Note how the zone of reflection, which started out large, “is your mission or role or obligation somehow different after 09/11?” was shrunk within the space of Smith’s question to more familiar newsroom scale. “… at this stage on this story, and the related aspects of it.”
There’s a little trick there; a switch is thrown. What starts out as a big reckoning with a world-shattering event for editor Raines and his ideas about obligation, mission and purpose, turns into a coverage question, an excercise in news judgment on a big story— September 11 and related events. That’s the trick.
“Anything different in the way you cover a story like this, Howell? What’s been the impact?” is to my ear a bizarrely confining question, since it traffics in the illusion that the most important decision a journalist can make about a rupture of the known world is how to “cover” the events that follow from it. And what does Howell Raines say? Nah, we know how to cover things. Nothing fundamentally different.
News Has Room for Only One Clock: I didn’t have a weblog on that day. But I felt I had to write something, and tell people what I saw, so I wrote emails to a list I was on, run by Ethan Casey at BlueEar.com. My title for them was “In Manhattan,” plus the date. Some of these e-mails went around the world, so that when I sent them to people I know, they would write back to me and say, “already saw it.” (I found that a miracle at the time.) This I wrote on the 12th, and then I pushed SEND:
To some, the towers went down in the same narrative space as the Hebrew Temple in 70 AD. (Not sure why I chose this example; probably I was confused.) We cannot, as we say, get our minds around this.
Meanwhile, we’re counting the years left with uncles and cousins and friends under that wreckage downtown. They are on another clock entirely, which means they assign different meaning to the loss of human life today. Their understanding took aim at ours, and hit the center. To learn of this yesterday was like a plane crashing inside your skull.
“The earth belongs to the living,” said our Jefferson. Well, his is one culturally specific way of clocking things. New Yorkers got struck by another, and a lot are dead… We feel we know what time it is, we know what “our time” here on earth is worth, and what it costs when taken from us. And we do know, as Jefferson knew: for us.
But when I turn on my television set, the narrative space shown me cannot hold the possibility that the attack also occured on another historical clock, far away from ours, and alien to it. The news has room for only one clock, one grammar in time. And here we meet with the limits of America’s civic wisdom. For what the news cannot “hold” the nation cannot behold. On TV, it’s still one trusty frame for time.
And I still think that’s a problem, but it’s just a piece of the puzzle Terrence Smith kept from Howell Raines by asking about “the coverage.”
No Duty to the Nation? A PressThink reader, who is also a blogger, a Bush supporter, a believer in the war in Iraq, and an occasionally hostile critic of the press, John Moore, has mentioned several times in comments here how startled he was to read the Society of Professional Journalist’s code of ethics and discover no mention of any “journalist’s duty to the nation” or the language of the nation at all. It’s as if they don’t have one! He finds this remarkable. Read the document yourself. It speaks in supra-national code. High enlightenment fashion. It’s not a statement of international principles, or a reflection on “national” identity. It pretends the whole category doesn’t exist.
Ever since Moore said it, I have been thinking along similar lines. Are journalists who inform citizens of the most powerful and influentual nation in the world participants in the war on terror, in the worldwide struggle for democracy, freedom and markets, because their country is a participant—the biggest by far—and they inform it? Or can they get by with: “Terrorism and war are big stories and we’re going to cover them as best we can. Our readers expect it. We’ll tell them what we know.”
The End of Immunity. I tried writing this piece once before, and will probably try again. The first attempt is a book chapter called “September 11th in the Mind of the American Journalism” (in Journalism After September 11, edited by Stuart Allen and Barbie Zelizer, Routledge, 2002.) Here’s a paragraph:
And it is this basic immunity from action that makes the whole regime of neutrality, objectivity and detachment even thinkable, let alone practical for journalists. When Tom Brokaw of NBC News was sent an envelope of anthrax by Someone Out There, no one talked about his neutrality or observer status. Which may be a good thing. When observer-hood becomes unthinkable, new things can be thought. It is reasonable to hope that September 11th eventually improves the mind of the American press. If it does, it will be an instance of creative destruction.
That destruction hasn’t happened yet, and while that is good for carrying on with the news, it’s a problem for carrying on in the world after September 11th.
Finishing the Work of the Terrorists: “Any news outlet — or any private individual, for that matter — who makes available footage of the actual beheadings is, to my mind, an accessory to the crime itself,” says [Tom] Kunkel, dean of journalism at the University of Maryland. “Those are the individuals who are essentially finishing the work of the terrorists, by delivering their grisly ‘message.’ ” This was said in the Los Angeles Times in June, “Web Amplifies Message of Primitive Executions.”
Kunkel’s warning shows, better than anything I have found, what I meant by starting the story over. What Kunkel says about beheading as terror is true for all acts of terror, which is a form of political violence bequeathed to us by a media age. News of any terror strike, any bomb, but also all the news about warnings and raising the threat code and “unguarded ports, power stations, and dams”— all of it, every bulletin, is “essentially finishing the work of the terrorists,” not because journalists and news criers have that aim, or forget which side they are on, but for the obvious reason, open to any intelligent citizen’s observation, that terror incorporates news into its principles of action.
What terrified people that Tuesday? It was The News Al Queda made of us, coming through our own media! Terrorism works best in an open society, where news flows. Those who keep the flow going, and react to emergencies by making news of them, sustain terror by doing their job. We are not to blame them for this. But neither is it a fact to be kept from journalists.
In fact this very thought—modern terrorism incorporates modern journalism—was in the Los Angeles Times story too, a few paragraphs ahead of Kunkel’s strange attempt to limit “accessory” status to those unscrupulous Webbies who post video the networks won’t touch. They’re accessories, and CNN when a bomb goes off is not? Witness:
Publicizing their atrocities has always been part of the strategy for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, says Josh Devon, an analyst at the SITE Institute in Washington, which tracks terrorist activities. “The point of terrorism is to strike fear and cause havoc — and that doesn’t happen unless you have media to support that action and show it to as many people as they can,” Devon says.
Well, yeah. But who wants to live with that knowledge (and its crushing ironies) at the forefront of your professional mind? I find it impossible to believe that people in the news tribe are unaware of their tribe’s incorporation by terror, their inadvertent, unwished-for status as accessories to the act. But I find it very plausible that they would try to let this go by, and deny that it “fundamentally” changes anything.
Terrorism and the world after 09/11? Big story, hard to cover, but we’re gonna do our best— “we’ll tell you what we know when we know it.” Okay, people? Okay troops.
After Khan’s Name was Revealed. I’m going to close these speculations by quoting a news account, a report by CNN, and let you think about it. Answer for yourself (or tell me in comments.) Is the press a participant in the war on terror, or does observer-hood still tell the right story for journalists after 09/11?
Until U.S. officials leaked the arrest of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan to reporters, Pakistan had been using him in a sting operation to track down al Qaeda operatives around the world, the sources said.
In background briefings with journalists last week, unnamed U.S. government officials said it was the capture of Khan that provided the information that led Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to announce a higher terror alert level.
Law enforcement sources said some of the intelligence gleaned from the arrests of Khan and others gave phone numbers and e-mail addresses that the FBI and other agencies were using to try to track down any al Qaeda operatives in the United States.
Then on Friday, after Khan’s name was revealed, government sources told CNN that counterterrorism officials had seen a drop in intercepted communications among suspected terrorists.
I’m coming from my own place on this, of course. I live in New York. It’s my city, and we got hit. I would love to know what you think.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
UPDATED AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am re-opening comments, asking people to show some restraint. I wrote this in comments:
It may be the agenda of some, but I didn’t say or imply, nor is it my view, that journalists after 09/11 should get with the anti-terror program, quit whining about the Patriot Act, and become more compliant toward the government. That, in my view, would be a disaster.
Nor do I support any new restrictions on press freedom, and I do not see that as following at all from my speculations here. In fact, one could argue that under conditions of permanent war and domestic security threats a fiercely independent press, one that can be a check on government—and a reality check on the Executive—becomes even more important.
New entrant. This Is Rumor Control: News and Analysis on the Appalling Mess We’re In is a very “everything changed on 9/11” weblog. Fascinating about page too. And check out who these guys say they are.
Jeff Jarvis was at the World Trade Centers when they fell. He had often reflected on it at Buzzmachine: “Personally, I did not start blogging until September 11 — because I didn’t have something to say until that day and after that day, I had so much to say and needed a place to say it.” Also see this on 9/11 a year later.
From back in September 2003, PressThink: Unbuilding at Ground Zero and Rebuilding in Iraq, which is partly a review of William Langewiesche’s American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center.
Solutions would have to come from everywhere. Everyone would have to make decisions within his sphere of competence, rather than checking with the authorites, who were too few, too busy and probably unable to help. Enormous commitment was of course required, backbreaking work amid emotional horror. But we’ve heard about that. Langewiesche shows that enormous flexibility was also required, which is a kind of social intelligence. On a job so huge, it’s impossible to be flexible by yourself. The subtitle of American Ground could have been a book of practical virtues.
The citizens who labored at Ground Zero are not that different from the citizens serving in the military occupation of Iraq. There is a lot that joins the two sites: the complexity and scale of destruction, the absence of any script, the fact that no one knows how to do nation-building in the Middle East, the many situations where problems have to be solved on the spot and without clearence from above, the living atmosphere of death. And of course the war that began with the Towers’ destruction has somehow landed on Iraqi soil. The vision that motivates the troops is of the same ruins that were cleared away by the hard hats and engineers.
Posted by Jay Rosen at August 13, 2004 3:23 PM
Sorry, but a lot of the comments here are over the top.
As a journalist, it's not my job to be a mouthpiece for (a) the U.S. government. My obligations are to (b) the truth, and (c) my fellow citizens.
Now, it so happens that there are any number of conflicts between (a) and (b) -- that is, our government, and this administration in particular, lies to us, and it's our job to report the truth, not to act as a ministry of propaganda. (This may have been what the correspondent in Afghanistan was alluding to. The more closely that foreigners associate journalists with the policies of their countries' governments, the more their lives are placed at risk. Ask any foreign journalist.)
At the same time, there are occasional conflicts between (b) the truth, and (c) my fellow citizens' well-being. For example, when a news organization comes into possession of newsworthy, truthful information that would put U.S. soldiers' lives or American citizens' lives at risk, 99 out of 100 times the information is not reported (and the news organization in that 100th instance deserves opprobrium).
When reporters and photojournalists accompany U.S. troops into battle, no they don't (and should not) carry firearms, les they be viewed as agents of the state and active combatants. But they don't leave their humanity behind, either. We all have heard of scores of examples where journalists put down their notebooks and cameras and run to the assistance of wounded soldiers or civilians.
For a news organization, is it more patriotic to learn about the ease with which once can smuggle nuclear materials into this country and then report it only to federal officials (who are the ones guilty of lax oversight in the first place) -- or to disseminate that information to the public?
My guess is that the "we're at war!" crowd would like the press to be nothing more than an adjunct of the U.S. government. (Fox News, with the American flag on anchors' lapels, long ago fell into line.) I can think of nothing else so dangerous. Isn't this docile, deferential approach to authority what got us into our current mess in Iraq? That's certainly one of the takeaways of Howard Kurtz' expose of newsroom practices that appeared in the Washington Post this week.
Some perspective, please: There were 61 million lives lost in World War 2, without any wholesale changes in press freedoms or redefinition of journalism. Tragically, 3,000 people lost their lives on 9/11 (thousands more in Iraq, but that war has had nothing to do with terrorism until recently).
I think Jay raises some important points in this essay. I'd like to hear specific proposals of how journalists should be practicing their craft differently.
Terrorism as propaganda
Air War College's Media and Terrorism
From Fred Friendly via Sgt Grit for JD Lasica:
Recent talk has it that NPR senior editor Loren Jenkins made a statement that he would, if in Afghanistan or Pakistan, report the presence of American commando units regardless of compromising the US combat troops.
This is not the first time a reporter stated a belief in 'higher' ideals than being an American.
In 1987 an 'Ethics in America' (Produced by Fred Friendly) TV panel discussion titled "Under Orders, Under Fire" was taped. The panel consisted of former soldiers like Brent Scowcroft and William Westmoreland discussing the ethical dilemmas of their work. The moderator was Charles Ogletree, a professor at Harvard Law School, who moved from expert to expert asking increasingly difficult questions in the law school's famous Socratic style. The description below is modified from a James Fallows piece titled "Why We Hate the Media." But I watched the episode on TV and recall vividly the words of Colonel Connell and how I came out of my seat and cheered when I heard them.
In exploring the topic of journalistic ethics, Ogletree turned to the two most famous members of the evening's panel, better known than William Westmoreland himself. These were two star TV journalists: Peter Jennings of World News Tonight and ABC, and Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes and CBS. Ogletree brought them into the same hypothetical war. He asked Jennings to imagine that he worked for a network that had been in contact with the enemy North Kosanese government. After much pleading, the North Kosanese had agreed to let Jennings and his news crew into their country, to film behind units. Would Jennings be willing to go? Of course, Jennings replied. Any reporter would - and in real wars others from his network often had.
But while Jennings and his crew are traveling with a North Kosanese unit, to visit the site of an alleged atrocity by American and South Kosanese troops, they unexpectedly cross the trail of a small group of American and South Kosanese soldiers. With Jennings in their midst, the northern soldiers set up a perfect ambush, which will let them gun down the Americans and Southerners, every one. What does Jennings do? Ogletree asks. Would he tell his cameramen to "Roll tape!" as the North Kosanese opened fire? What would go through his mind as he watched the North Kosanese prepare to ambush the Americans?
Jennings sat silent for about fifteen seconds after Ogletree asked this question. "Well, I guess I wouldn't," he finally said. "I am going to tell you now what I am feeling, rather than the hypothesis I drew for myself. If I were with a North Kosanese unit that came upon Americans, I think that I personally would do what I could to warn the Americans."
Even if it means losing the story? Ogletree asked.
Even though it would almost certainly mean losing my life, Jennings replied. "But I do not think that I could bring myself to participate in that act. That's purely personal, and other reporters might have a different reaction."
Immediately Mike Wallace spoke up. "I think some other reporters would have a different reaction," he said, obviously referring to himself. "They would regard it simply as a story they were there to cover."
"I am astonished, really." at Jennings's answer, Wallace said a moment later. He turned toward Jennings and began to lecture him:
"You're a reporter. Granted you're an American," (at least for purposes of the fictional example - Jennings has actually retained Canadian citizenship.) "I'm a little bit at a loss to understand why, because you're an American, you would not have covered that story."
Ogletree pushed Wallace. Didn't Jennings have some higher duty, either patriotic or human, to do something rather than just roll film as soldiers from his own country were being shot? "No," Wallace said flatly and immediately. "You don't have a higher duty. No. No. You're a reporter!"
Jennings backtracked fast. Wallace was right, he said. "I chickened out." Jennings said that he had gotten so wrapped up in the hypothetical questions that he had lost sight of his journalistic duty to remain detached.
As Jennings said he agreed with Wallace, everyone else in the room seemed to regard the two of them with horror. Retired Air Force general Brent Scowcroft, who had been Gerald Ford's national security advisor and would soon serve in the same job for George Bush, said it was simply wrong to stand and watch as your side was slaughtered. "What's it worth?" he asked Wallace bitterly. "It's worth thirty seconds on the evening news, as opposed to saving a platoon."
Ogletree turned to Wallace. What about that? Shouldn't the reporter have said something?
Wallace gave his most disarming grin, shrugged his shoulders and spread his palms wide in a "Don't ask me!" gesture, and said, "I don't know." He was mugging to the crowd in such a way that he got a big laugh - the first such moment of the discussion. Wallace paused to enjoy the crowd's reaction. Jennings, however, was all business, and was still concerned about the first answer he had given.
"I wish I had made another decision," Jennings said, as if asking permission to live the last five minutes over again. "I would like to have made his decision" - that is, Wallace's decision to keep on filming.
A few minutes later Ogletree turned to George M. Connell, a Marine colonel in full uniform. jaw muscles flexing in anger, with stress on each word, Connell looked at the TV stars and said,
"I have utter...contempt. Two days later they're both walking off my hilltop, two hundred yards away and they get ambushed. And they're lying there wounded. And they're going to expect I'm going to send Marines up there to get them. They're just journalists. They're not Americans."
"Oh, we'll do it," Connell continued, "And that is what makes me so contemptuous of them. Marines will die going to get a couple of journalists."
The last few words dripped with disgust.
Not even Ogletree knew what to say. There was dead silence for several seconds. Newt Gingrich, looking a generation younger and trimmer than when he became Speaker of the House in I995 said: "The military has done a vastly better job of systematically thinking through the ethics of behavior in a violent environment than the journalists have."
That was about the mildest way to put it. Peter Jennings and Mike Wallace are just two individuals, but their reactions spoke volumes about the values of their craft. Jennings was made to feel embarrassed about his natural, decent human impulse. Wallace was completely unembarrassed about feeling no connection to the soldiers in his country's army or considering their deaths before his eyes as "simply a story."
Like Col. Connell said, "They're not Americans, they're just
Capt, USMCR 64-67
I think during war truth is more important than ever. Shouldn't we have a fair hearing of both sides? And yet, I watch the main stream media slant the news dramatically in favor of one of the presidential candidates (Kerry) at the expense of the other.
This betrays an amazing arrogance - the knowledge that they know what is best for us, and/or the knowledge that they can get away with lying by omission or slant.
I'll use an example I started using months ago - the Swifties. Oh, you didn't know they did anything newsworthy back then? Thank the news media.
On May 5, they held a press conference in which every one of Kerry's commanding officers and the entire chain of command through Zumwalt accused Kerry of not being fit for command.
As far as I know, this is an unprecedented event. It certainly seems newsworthy. Imagine it was Bush and Air Guard people. Would we have heard of it? And yet, it was ignored by AP, NBC and ABC. CBS reported it in a manner that would make those few who believe CBS want to immediately lynch the Swifties. Other outlets' coverage for the most part was a small story (not followed up), often with the Kerry campaign spin inserted without investigation. The Kerry campaign approach, by the way, was McCarthyite - guilt by association. O'Neill had been encouraged by Nixon to debate Kerry, so O'Neill was clearly a Republican shill (hint: O'Neill has been reported to favor Edwards had he been the nominee). The PR firm had been tied to some dirty business in 2000 sliming McCain, so again, these folks must be Bush operatives ( illegal under election laws ).
How many here knew of the event? Did you find out from the main stream media? Do you trust them to show you all you need to know? How many were led to believe it was a Republican smear machine behind it?
Then we had the Swiftie ad. The Democratic Committee's lawyers sent scare letters to many or all of the station where the ad was to be run.
How many people heard about that intimidation attempt? How many people knew that three organizations immediately sued the Swifties? Is the press giving us the true in this crucial election year?
Beyond that, where the ad did come up, too many organizations, ignorant of the subject, allowed the argument that only those who served on Kerry's boat "served with him" or could judge his performance?
Moving on... has anyone investigated Kerry's "band of brothers?" How many of them got safer assignments when Kerry left Vietnam? How long did they serve on his boat?
Has there been a single investigation, or does the media just trust everything Kerry says.
How many people know that Kerry was a Naval Reserve Officer during his anti-war protests, and tried to cover it up? How many know that his words were used to torture POWs? How many know that in June of this year, Kerry's words were used in a Vietnamese News Service propaganda piece attacking US activities in Iraq? How many know that Kerry's picture is in a room honoring foreigners who helped the Communists win the Vietnam War?
In other words, where the hell are the investigative journalists? I know those things. Why don't they? Will the American public ever find out?
So my specific points are: get back to basics. Tell the truth - as much of it as you can ascertain. Stop using your positions as a way to change the nation - I don't want to pay an activist's salary when I buy a nenwspaper.
Here's my final suggestion: we are at war. Focus on the war. Remember that scandals will be available, but examine how big they should be. Look at history - World War II, which had fewer deaths on our soil - for how things were covered. The all seeing eye of the press can act as a psychological weapon for the enemy (as the publication of the pictures of Abu Ghraib did). Try something new: consider the impact on your nation before you publish something like that.
Tim: I watched that 1987 televised roundtable. I was disturbed at Mike Wallace's comments then, and I find them equally deplorable today. I would suggest to you that the vast majority of journalists reject that point of view. No one I know would do what Wallace suggests.
Earl: You may be surprised that over the past decade I've been more critical of the mainstream media than anyone who has posted here today. The online news circles where I regularly post, and where I regularly slam the media, would be surprised to find people on this list who think I'm a defender of big media. I'm not. But I criticize specific examples of malfeasance or unethical behavior rather than making a wholesale attack on "the media."
Jay: I'm surprised you think my posts have criticized the thrust of your posting. They have not, and you know I'm a big fan of your writings. I do, however, take issue with those who have bashed the press here and suggested restrictions on press liberties. (Yes, the press has done much to bring this kind of disdain upon itself, as I've written dozens of times -- while suggesting specific changes the press ought to make.)
To raise the questions you have is praiseworthy. I'm still looking for some specific suggestions about what the press should be doing differently.
I'm not surprised other journalists haven't posted here, given the tone of the comments, but I'll suggest a few principles to kick this off in a constructive way:
- In a combat situation, journalists must always remember their humanity and devotion to their fellow men and women. Life comes before the story.
- When confronted with the possibility that citizens would face grave harm from reporting an exclusive story, news organizations should refrain from doing so until the danger has passed.
- We are journalists. But we are also Americans. Don't assume that reporting unpleasant truths turns us into something less. An informed citizenry is one of the strongest bulwarks against terrorism and despotism.
- In a time of war and heightened terrorism alerts, news organizations should do everything within their means to ferret out the truth so that citizens can make informed decisions about the threats facing the nation, without fear, favor or partisanship.
"Sorry, but a lot of the comments here are over the top.
As a journalist, it's not my job to be a mouthpiece for (a) the U.S. government. My obligations are to (b) the truth, and (c) my fellow citizens."
I probably don't belong in this discussion because I'm not a journalist, or a pundit, or an intellectual... just a plain old American. But when I see JD Lasica's posts, I feel a real disconnect between us. I'm having trouble dealing with this War on Terrorism, or Clash of Civilizations, or whatever the name of the day is, and I don't feel well served by the mainstream journalists that I used to go to. There's a tinniness or shallowness to reporting these days, that I'm getting bite-size bits of information about issues that are really big, like historically big, like WWII big, and "journalists" are not willing to step up and relate to the Big Picture. For me, the reality is there's a war on, and in a war there are two sides, and there are big differences in world views, historical perspectives, and dreams for the future between the two. In trying to define my role in the world and what I believe as an American I have picked up my Bible. I have watched the movies "Osama" and "The Patriot" - just try watching both of those in the same night. I have bought copies of the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States of America for myself and my sons. All these have helped me in some way get some sense of direction in the midst of uncertainty, some feel for a perspective on the Big Picture. And that's helped me to pick a side in this conflict.
And I think that's where the disconnect comes from. I feel like journalism by and large hasn't picked a side, and thus, as better explained by others above, isn't on my side. I see black and white in this war we're in, but I feel like I'm being told it's really gray. I have moral relativism preached at me when I'm sure there's good and evil. Journalism won't be patriotic, when patriotism is what drives me now. And the last thing I want to be told is that patriotism means we have to cast a jaundiced eye upon everything done in the name of America.
This war is life and death. Maybe death for someone I know, for me, for some in my family. It's also a struggle for survival of ideals I cherish - equality, freedom of speech and religion, glorious democracy, capitalism - if not for me possibly for many that now enjoy them, or wish to. And I just don't see that media/journalism/those that decide what's news, really get this. In the interest of describing a tree here or there, the forest has been forgotten.
I'm not sure this is an answer to your question, Jay, but when you speak of journalists' view of America and how they view their connection to America, the thing that popped into my mind was containers.
I suspect "America" for many journalists is a giant container with a lot of smaller, sometimes overlapping, occasionally quarelling, containers inside. In order to cover events and discussions, they must place themselves outside that "America" container, in order to view things impartially and dispassionately. Being inside the container limits the distance needed. Being outside the container allows freedom of distance and view.
Most folks assumed that 9/11 dissolved (obliterated?) the many small containers into fewer, larger ones. Or that many formerly unaligned or opposed containers would find a contiguous surface in a response to the attacks and their perpetrators. Most Americans assumed that smaller differences would be subordinated to the larger interest of defending America and punishing its enemies.
But the press would have to resist that, in order to maintain their freedom of distance and movement and point of view. To move inside the container would be to constrain themselves in their duty. That duty isn't connected to the "America" container but to their freedom of distance and point of view. The pressure to unite had the equal and opposite reaction in journalists of resistance and separation.
Then there is the parallel matter of Election 2000, which created an enormous rift in American society. A new, large and very distinct container came into being thanks to the Florida recount and the Florida and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. In a manner of speaking, two parallel Americas came into being -- one where Bush won and one where Bush stole Gore's victory. One America views Bush as the rightful President and another views Bush as illegitimate.
In the second America, the illegitimate President dishonestly brought America into an illegal war for immoral purposes. All actions flowing from the initial wrong are themselves tainted and wrong. For this group, the election this year is an effort to bring these two Americas back together at the point of rupture and erase the events of the past four years.
Reporters, meanwhile, remain outside these containers, but still report on the whole as though there is no rupture. As though the two are one.
I guess this is where my model breaks down, as you can legitimately say that journalists likely view themselves as another container. The unanimity of politics and point of view among the national, and much of the local, press is a direct refutation of the "outside the container" model, since it would imply a lot of diversity in every sense.
You can argue that a container inside the "America" container -- the liberalised educational system and journalism schools -- somehow gained a monopoly on control of access to "outsider" status. They were a container working inside "America" with the intent of subverting it. One would expect a free and open press to be a diverse, contradictory and vigorous universe of reporting.
Of course, this is an ideal. Reporters are human and even the best training and discipline will slip over time. Especially when the trainers and monitors alone can police themselves, resistant to outside intervention. Solipsism and self-referentiality set in; ossification, too.
Somewhere between the Forties and the Seventies, a conservative press sympathetic to those in power and willing to accept censorship for the sake of the national good (inside the "America" container) became an oppositional, liberal press divorced from an "America" container that many viewed with disdain. That arm's-length distance, that freedom of movement and distance, worked because the wars and enemies were "out there" somewhere.
Even as modern terrorism moved closer and closer, the distance remained. I think many to most Americans expected that the press might collapse back to a Forties-style, pro-America, compliant model. It hasn't and the problems with that outsider viewpoint are becoming clearer every day. It's a component of the success of Fox News, in my opinion. I also think it's part of what drove the earlier success of talk radio -- a desire to hear from a press that considers itself American.
The blogosphere managed to break the control of the j-schools and media monitors, opening the flow of information. We are beginning to see a diverse, contradictory and vigorous universe of reporting thanks to it. We are also seeing a lot more reporting from inside the "America" container. The change is, I think, what you are looking for, yes? I begin to suspect it won't be a process of assimilation and adaptation -- at least not for a while -- but rather a process of replacement.
Thanks, Jay. I've had this formless idea in my head in my head for a while and the discussion helped to precipitate and crystallise it. Sorry for the length of the post.
Jay: You have a great question in your essay; what I don’t understand is why people don’t respond to it in the spirit in which it is asked rather than dragging in their partisan views. As someone who used to work in the media (albeit in a tiny market—and mine was the dominant newspaper in the state), I feel that those who write the death of journalism need to go back to Mark Twain’s comment about the reporting of his death. I do wonder about the use of the term journalist in this blog. Some people seem to see journalist as different from reporter. Then they criticize the reporters for the content of their stories, but they call them journalists.(?)
I think that journalists (or reporters) will be around for the foreseeable future. However, as in the days when television was supplanting newspapers, there will be changes brought on by the Internet. For instance, I can get my local NPR station on my computer, if I wish. I can also read blogs such as yours, but I still get most of my news from newspapers. However, I would define journalism as the pulling together of news of interest for others so that they don’t have to take the time to do so themselves from a variety of sources. Most people spend only a certain amount of time each day on their newspaper or the television news. They don’t want to have to spend great gobs of time on their computers either looking at a variety of opinions in a variety of places or having to “spin the dial” a dozen times to hear what’s been happening which I why I suspect journalists will eventually be publishing even more web newspapers, which may be better in the long run that what we get from television.
If the term journalism is limited to opinion pieces then it is obvious that journalists are going to be condemned by one side or the other. Those of us who think, read them to confirm our own opinions or because we enjoy their prose, not to get their opinions. Thus, for the first time in eons plus a year or two, I read Bill O’Reilly at breakfast this morning without getting sick. (John Moore—he has an interesting take on the Swift Boat thing!) His opinion gibed with what I’ve been thinking. And I’m not arguing that situation one way or another; I’m giving an analogy as to why I think so many people find the media biased. And I, for one, have believed it conservative bias rather than liberal. I think the only reason we think it is biased on the left is that the “victim” conservatives have been shouting that so long that even the newsrooms are beginning to believe it. I think it actually began with, believe it or not, Lyndon Johnson and was honed to perfection by Richard Nixon. Or maybe he started it from California and Johnson picked it up in Washington.
I had thought we answered the question in the positive during the 1960s about covering the unpopular issues. From some of the posts here I wonder if television stations and newspapers should have covered 9/11. When the buildings collapsed, that gave the terrorists even more publicity than the planes going into the buildings. Should the American public have been left in the dark? I thought the networks and the newspapers and the magazines did a commendable job of covering that day (with the caveat that the networks went on and on and on without saying anything new) from the viewpoint of the American side. (The bias was that very little reporting was done about the construction of the buildings that enabled them to collapse. The Empire State Building survived an ape climbing on it as well as the B17 that hit it during WWII.) Should journalists not tell us about the next attack? Should they shield us from the bad news in Iraq and report that everything is going smoothly as the Administration wants them too? Or should the American public be alerted ahead of time so that when the whole shebang falls apart they are knowledgeable? After all, the victory is not going to take place the new schools, etc., it really is going to take place at this point in the battles with the insurgents. Apparently the latest news or the recurring al Sadr revolt is that the provision government may be losing its authority throughout the whole country as a result. The positive stories need to be reported, but the public needs to know what is really going on. It needs to be encouraged to think for itself rather than absorbing government propaganda.
Trying to cover the world of sports, weather, fashion, health, science and war in thirty minutes a day is one reason that reporting has gotten sloppy. Trying to cover it quickly may be another reason. If it has. Headline writing is up to its usual standard: excellent sometimes, average most of the time, written for an unread story the rest. But the change in coverage has come around mostly because of the changes in warfare. In most of the foreign wars in our history, had a journalist from one side tried to go behind enemy lines, he would have been imprisoned or shot by the other. This is what has changed. But in this modern world, we Americans are among the most ignorant in knowing attitudes and feelings of those outside our boundaries. It’s great to be American, but do journalists have to become the home-team sports announcer who is upbeat and optimistic when the home team is down 20 points and tells us how bad the team is that is 20 points ahead? “It’s just a bad night for the home team?” Yes, American journalists should be on the American side. The Wallace/Jennings interview begs the question because it sets up an untenable situation that has more to do with the courage of the reporter than his Americanism. By only dealing with the one variable it is nonsense. No one suggested that should he make a move to warn the patrol, he’d probably be dead before he could do more than twitch. A knife is silent and if I had an enemy reporter with me on an ambush, he would be watched so that he could do nothing. The generals should have known that. Commit suicide to no avail?
Michael McCanles: I think the Stockholm Syndrome analogy is just a vicious way to attack Liberals and indicates you have no understanding of where they come from. You haven’t done your homework.
Dave L: The peace and freedom you desire is kept only with vigilance and you need to know the facts, not the propaganda to keep it.
Glenn Livet: Now I know why I switched to blended scotch. I looked at your questions and I am still of the same beliefs I was when I started. They are nonsense.
As a "news consumer" and American, Howell Raines's reply to Smith's question doesn't bother me, in abstract. 9/11 did not change my need for the press to tell me "...what we know when we know it, within a framework of intellectual testing for soundness and information." But for a long time the press hadn't been giving me that. Instead, it's been more like "...what we decide to tell you, understanding that it must fit our framework of the way we want the world to be, and the way we want you to think." While I could put up with this before 9/11, it's not acceptable now. 9/11 concentrated the mind: Getting accurate information is now a life-and-death matter. That's made me less tolerant of press foibles, and more sensitive to spin and incomplete reporting.
One thing that struck me in the days immediately after 9/11 was the apparant uniformity of the media's lack of trust in the American people, and in America's government. We've all heard about the networks' decision to stop rebroadcasting the actual crash footage and the towers' fall; at first justified on the grounds of "good taste," later out of concern that such broadcasts might be seen as waving the bloody shirt. And there were the constant exhortations that "although these attackers might have been Muslims, they weren't the same as all Muslims, certainly not the moderate Muslims." (This despite the inability to find any "moderate" Muslims who were willing to speak on the record.) Even displaying the American flag was suspect: It might "send the wrong message." It was as if the press, haunted by the spectre of William Randolph Hearst, made the decision to restrict the information it would give Americans "for their own good," lest the people (that mob of rabble) force their government (that collection of idiots) into doing something "rash."
But for this reader, these gyrations were the press declaring its "lack of affiliation with a home team." [Al Maviva's comment] It produced a Groucho-and-Chico situation: "Well, your word's good enough for me. Now then, is my word good enough for you?" "I should say not!" Except this time nobody's word is good: The press doesn't trust me enough to give me the whole, unvarnished, story. Fine. Then why should I assume that what the press tells me is is whole or unvarnished?
And it's not helped when my concerns of bias get met with statements like this: "My guess is that the "we're at war!" crowd would like the press to be nothing more than an adjunct of the U.S. government." [J.D. Lasica's comment] No, that's not what we want. It might be nice to-- once and a while-- just hear what the government is saying without the instant analysis, interpretation, and journalistic "yes, but"s. It might be nice if-- from time to time-- the press could give equal weight to the Secretary of Defense and the latest Osama Bin Laden tape. I guess what I'm saying is that it might be nice if the press seemed to trust our own people at least as much as it does French diplomats, UN bureaucrats, the Palastinians, or the random disaffected arab who made the interview-of-the-day slot. "We are journalists. But we are also Americans. Don't assume that reporting unpleasant truths turns us into something less. An informed citizenry is one of the strongest bulwarks against terrorism and despotism." [J.D. Lasica, later] Okay. We need to know the unpleasant truths. It's vital that we know them. But we need to know that they are truths, not spin.
So you want suggestions, JD? Well, I'd start by echoing "Glenn Livet's" comment "'If those propositions are true, what am I missing?' Then go find some answers." [above] Doubt both your sources and your own assumptions. People who were wrong before may be right today. The situation today may no longer fit yesterday's template. We're betting our lives on your understanding of what the truth is now.
Pay attention to details. If somebody is accused of saying something, do us the favor of checking to see if that's what he really said, before you write the article. Errors will be caught, and, intentional or not, they weaken your credibility. (Hint: "Africa" != "Niger")
Don't waste our time. We depend on you to keep an eye on the world for us. There are a lot of things going on out there that could turn around and bite. We need to know about them. But we won't know if you fill the front page with the nth rehash of the prisoner abuse story and don't report the Iranians putting the finishing touches on their atomic weapons.
Don't drop the story because it no longer fits the template (or, What Ever Happened to Joseph Wilson?). When things change, we need a followup.
Identify, identify, identify. Deadly constructions like "critics charged," "some [...] have said," and the like, make me want to turn into Harold Ross, scrawl "WHO HE?" on the story, and send it back for rewriting. Too often, I feel, the "unnamed source" of these quotes is the reporter, or one of his beer buddies. If somebody wants to attack the government in time of war, they should have the courage to go on the record.
Keep the spin out of the headlines and out of the news. "Should a successful terrorist act be reported as a failure of governing forces with an impending downfall, or as an act of inhumanity that civil people are obligated to denounce and civil society internationally obligated to defeat?" [Tim's question] I'd say neither. Save the declarations of "heroic fights for freedom" or "vile acts of inhumanity" for the editorial page. (But if somebody's using terror as a tactic, call him a "terrorist," OK? The word does have a precise meaning.)
"The Wallace/Jennings interview... sets up an untenable situation that has more to do with the courage of the reporter than his Americanism. By only dealing with the one variable it is nonsense."
Calling the question "nonsense" sure beats trying to answer it, doesn't it? ;-)
Jay, once again thank you for the thoughtful essay.
A couple of what I hope are relatively non-partisan points.
First, if, as you say, everything changed for American journalists on September 11th, than one thing that did not change is the fundamental economics behind the profession. Did the landscape change enough so that the American press decided to open more news bureaus and provide more in-depth foreign coverage? Or is our coverage and national conversation still essentially grouped around the same limited sound bites that left Americans as isolated in global affairs as before the 11th?
From my perspective, the questions you pose are good ones; but to those who control the allocative decision making in American newsrooms they are largely irrelevant. I am less worried about Khan’s name being revealed than I am about millions of spots around the world that are potential breeding grounds for new terrorists and that we have no dialogue about as a polity; like the US military getting involved with the corrupt and human rights-wary governments in the Sahel region to train security forces in anti-terrorism measures or the fact that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, recently arrested in Pakistan, was a beneficary of Charles Taylor’s largess at a time when we were supporting Liberia.
As for Harold Raines, I do not fault the principles of journalism, or even its methodology, provided that we allow more into what the "news" can hold. But here again I feel like the issue is more one of economics than journalistic norms. But this is why I am so heartened by the expansive powers of digital media to broaden the scope of discourse.
Ideally – and this is very enlightenment of me – journalists should have non-state passports. We should be citizens of the world, bent on creating a dialogue that is free from baser nationalistic impulses. For me, this has nothing to do with objectivity, or being merely an observer; it does have everything to do with bringing honesty to reporting: being up front and clear about what we write and show and thoughtful about how we go about it. It involves being open to listening to people who disagree with us, and also taking a stand and saying what is important. The same thoughtfulness comes into play in choosing to show the beheadings. There are judgments that all of us make in terms of coverage; and just as people leap to show the beheadings on the "other side" Al Jazerra shows only the civilian causalities.
I do not necessarily read anything into showing these images beyond the fact that the media is skewed to the sensational (once again, back to economics). Terrorism just so happens to fit well with this. Beheadings got far more press than genocide in Darfur. They are more sensational.
The problem for me is the way questions of audience, and ultimately profit, frame the way the “news” is created. This is where journalism fails; this is where creative destruction is most needed.
I know that this is vague. I am not quite sure how else to say it. This is my city as well; and I remember taking part in a fundamental act of American democracy on the morning of the 11th: being a poll worker in downtown Brooklyn.
I also remember thinking, scared out of my mind, that nothing changed at all, we were only conscious of the world for the first time in a long while.
I'm fascinated by the confusion, or perhaps more accurately the numerous responses of assured ambiguity, Rosen's essay has generated.
I'm left asking if I'm one of the confused concerning the meaning and questions posed in this thread.
With this, I'm going to try to find out.
I think there are two axioms that need to be accepted in order to accept Rosen's premise.
1. The press (or media if you prefer) shape the information they provide, either as news or infotainment or Op/Ed commentary. In America and elsewhere, where the press is not (strictly?) state controlled, there is a deluge of multifaceted information sources, different frames for presenting reality's ambiguities. Perhaps we can think of the way information is framed and presented as a surface plot in a 3-D graph with the prominence of some frames used to convey information as peaks and the dearth of other frames as holes, or troughs.
2. There are interest groups that integrate the media in their plans to obtain their goals. Terrorists are one of these interest groups and their "propaganda by deed" is based on the reasonably predictable media coverage of their terrorist act.
This is not a question of whether the hijacking of four passenger jets, the collapse of two towers in the World Trade Center and a burning, gaping hole in the Pentagon should be reported.
Hello? It's going to be reported. Those things get noticed.
But the people who planned those attacks did so with a preconceived idea of the type and amount of media attention it would generate.
The 9/11 commission discussed the PR operation of al-Qaeda, and Michael Ware discusses the PR operation in Iraq that is generating videos for media consumption of beheadings and other guerrilla and terror attacks.
It seems to me, the question is: Are the right rules in place for reporting terror attacks?
Journalistic ethics have all kinds of rules for reporting information: reporting the rape but not the rape victim's name, or reporting a death but not the name of the decedent until the next of kin has been notified. To avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
The media frames their reporting about segregationists, supremecists and violent gangs. The media frames their reporting on the powerful and the disenfranchised.
Why is it so difficult to discuss the framing for reporting about acts by international terrorists?
When the media covers a terrorist act in a predictable way, as preconceived by the terrorists, they are co-conspirators to the completion of the act. This is so well understood at this point that denying it or claiming ignorance is no longer acceptable.
It is professionally appropriate to ask if the code of ethics is sufficiently articulate on this point when the media plays an integral role to the relative success of terrorism.
Should the press report the act but deny the terrorists the credit, or airing of their causes, or diminish the credibility of their cause as it might an act of burning a cross by the KKK? Or should the press make a priority exposing the financiers and provocateurs -- advocating for action action those that incite and make terrorism possible?
Can the media examine how they are being used by the terrorist and make terrorism targeted for ever larger media attention (meaning increasingly offensive and grandiose attacks) and still report the Abu Ghraib prison abuse? Is that chewing gum and walking? Can the media examine their Abu Ghraib coverage as a separate issue from terrorism's use of the media? How does the failure of Judy Miller to find WMD relate to whether the US or Pakistani administration named Khan -- or the media dance with the devils involved in Berg's decapitation -- or what Ware faces from behind the lines?
Is it partisanship that connects the dots between our desire for reporting that embarrasses or exposes the administration, and our unwillingness to question the ethics involved with reporting acts of terrorism?
If objective journalism cannot name genocide or terrorism, is journalism unethical in its silence? Does it lose credibility?
If we can think about journalism potency in the judicial process, why not the terrorism process? Does reporting an international act of terrorism in America require different rules for the American press than reporting an act of terrorism in Bali or Spain? Is that a form of national awareness? Is that taking the interests of the nation into consideration if the act of terror was targeted at the public via the nation's media?
Simon's Competitive Grieving leads me to wonder if his understanding of Enlightenment, Journalism's neutrality, and morality reflect his own "taking sides":
What is under attack by the controllers of our grief is the notion that the Americans killed by acts of terror are no more, or less, human than the ones we have killed by our policies both before and after.
I do not find it enlightened or moral to pretend to operate as a neutral, disinterested party for terrorists' propaganda - and can distinguish that from the "4th establishment" role of the press.
BF Writes (way back up there):
The fact is that opposing the government is frequently the most patriotic thing the press can do. Activist Republicans interpret this patriotism as unAmerican because they can't distinguish between Republican propaganda and the meaning of America.
I find that statement grotesquely offensive. It's like saying that the umpire in a game should pick one team and help it out. The press should not oppose the government, it should report on it. And yes, I consider "opposing the government" by the press to be unAmerican and unPatriotic. In other words, it is just plain wrong. It matters not who is in the government, opposing the government is not the job of the press. This doesn't mean the press should only report good news, or refrain from investigative reporting that may turn over scandals. It just means their job is passive, not active. Let the opposition party or activist groups do the opposing. In my mind, a reporter who is an activist is a person who is abusing a position and should be fired. Save the activism for after hours and don't use your privileged position to argue for your own hobby horses.
As to the comment about Republicans' inability to distinguish... a fun partisan slam that is wrong and worthless.
To the extent that the press is seen as transnationalist or anti-government, it's value to Americans is reduced significantly. A reporter that has the first value is unamerican and one with the second is probably a liar (it will depend on which part controls the government).
The job of the press is to present information (and make a profit). It would be damned nice if it presented accurate information (which is not the same as balanced) and left out partisanship. Put the partisanship in the editorial pages, and keep it there.
I consider the behavior of the mainstream press in avoiding even mentioning the three important actions (so far) of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to be shockingly partisan. The partisanship is raw and bleeding. If one of Bush's comrades in the National Guard came forward with these sorts of allegations, it would be large headlines and leading TV stories. Koppel would be pondering it. But when 60 of them pop up, with signed affidavits, attacking the core of Kerry's campaign (his time in Vietnam), it is ignored by almost all the MSM.
Today the LA Times produced a very poorly written, and highly biased article about some of this. The reader was told how to interpret it (vast right win conspiracy) before finding the facts deep in the article.
But this controversy, a scandal that makes Abu Ghraib look tiny, is being suppressed.
There is only one way to describe this: unAmerican, violating the American idea of the role of the press. My loathing for those who are doing this is extreme.
One other comment on patriotism, since someone brought it up (I don't normally talk about unAmerican or unPatriotic). Reporters who are transnationals by definition are not patriotic. They have moved their loyalty from the United States to somewhere else. To me, they are not Americans. A nation isn't just physical boundaries - it also requires a feeling of belonging.
Back on topic...
Somebody mentioned that reporters captured with an enemy patrol would be traitors. I don't think it's that simple. Motivation would count. Willingess to aid the enemy patrol would count. Treason charges are rare because they are so grave.
As far as counter-gaming terrorists with selective reporting or other tricks... that's a path that will fail. If there is a terrorist act, it should be reported with no restrictions (other than genuine national security issues). Trying to come up with policies to defeat the terrorist's use of the press isn't going to work.
I think the medias biggest failure since 9-11 is in looking at the big picture, recognizing that we are at war with a lot of people who will murder us with qualms, and analyzing the circumstances. Some may consider this to be Republican propaganda - those people I would label as stuck in the past.
As someone else mentioned, don't give me Abu Ghraib every day - tell me about Iran getting nukes. What do we know? What might happen? What are the issues related to proliferation to multiple countries? How about biological weapons? Are we doing enough to get ready for them?
There are many weighty topics of great importance in a war. I don't see enough analysis there (of course, a lot I am asking is analysis, not reporting).
Another failing of both the press and the government (more, the government) has been political correctness - avoiding profiling (or decrying it), calling Islam a religion of peace even though there are plenty of its adherence who are motivated by teachings about murder (Islam being not a unified religion).
I found the failure to show the full gore of the 911 attacjs, and the prohibition of using pictures of the attack to be poorly thought out. People at war need to feel it, and part of feeling it is showing the full consequences.
As far as government restrictions on the press, that will be determined by two thing: (1) How responsible the press is with situations that impact war efforts (Abu Ghraib was not a good sign - the story without the pictures would have avoided a strong emotional impact among those who are being recruited by our enemies), and (2) How critical the situation gets.
I get the feeling that this discussion is a bit too abstract. Since 9-11, all the killing has been way over thar... not here. That could change with a vengeance. If you imagine the release of a deadly contagious pathogen, information control might suddenly be critical. Furthermore, think about a part of America where, because of the pathogens, there are roadblocks, with tanks, and orders to destroy anyone who goes through them, and the situation gets a little hairier. Can a reporter get through? Should the government allow certain information to be reported?
There are a lot of these sorts of scenarios that end up with martial law or something close to it. In those circumstances, the press will be censored.
Another, simpler example is when you need to control panic. A credible threat that a nuke is in a city is received by the government. They need to evacuate with minimal panic. How do they do that? Probably some story about a deadly chemical or virus would clear folks out without them trying to get out of range really fast. Who has what responsibility? Do we get a situation where an informed citizenry has many more deaths than one mislead? I think there are some cases where that is true.
As you think through these scenarios, imagine that journalism views its role as opposing the government. Do you think the government is going to trust it with anythinig sensitive under those circumstancces?