Blogs by Dennis N. Griffin
7/3/2006 2:24:14 PM
There has been a controversy of late regarding the media publishing details of allegedly secret programs our government is using to fight terrorism. I find myself caught up in the issue, even though I donít really want to be. I have questions for the editors of the publications involved. But since Iím not in a realistic position to get an interview with them to make my inquiries, Iíve decided to do a mock telephone interview. My questions and the responses to them are based on my understanding of the situation from current and past articles, reports and analysis of the mediaís performance.
Talking with an Editor
DNG: Mr. Editor, thanks so much for speaking with me today. Iím quite concerned about our ongoing war on terror and hope you can help me to understand your position on what the role of the media should be in regard to that matter.
Editor: There isnít really anything complicated about it. The media function is to keep an eye on what the government is doing, and to inform the public of things they should be aware of and that our elected officials are failing to disclose. In other words, weíre protecting the public from the government running amok.
DNG: I see your point. I agree that it would be foolish for the people to blindly accept whatever the government says unchallenged. But arenít there checks and balances built into our system of government? Donít the various branches keep tabs on each other?
Editor: Certainly thatís the way it should work, but I donít think we can rely entirely on the government to police itself. I believe it is the responsibility of a free press to watch the watchdog. The people have a right to know what their government is up to and I intend to make sure they do.
DNG: Youíre saying the government canít necessarily be trusted and I canít argue that point. I concur that there is a need for oversight, but thatís where I have a problem. Whoís watching those who are watching the watchdog?
Editor: What in the world are you talking about?
DNG: Well, it seems to me that if our elected officials are incompetent or worseÖ treasonous, for exampleÖthere are mechanisms in place to deal with them. They can be impeached, recalled, charged criminally when appropriate, or voted out of office. And I share your belief that a free press can be instrumental in exposing incompetence and misconduct. My concern deals more with publishing classified information that might hurt our anti-terror efforts.
Editor: We donít take our responsibility lightly in that regard. Before we publish any sensitive material weíre confident that the publicís right to know outweighs secrecy concerns.
DNG: It seems to me then, youíre saying the editorial staffs of the various newspapers decide what is right or wrong, good or bad, and whether printing the information is worth putting my safety at risk. Is that accurate?
Editor: As I said, when weíre sure the publicís right to know is more important than keeping government secrets, we go with it. But I assure you that we donít take these decisions lightly.
DNG: I donít take the war on terror lightly either. People are trying to kill us, and by the thousands or tens-of-thousands. While I agree about the need for keeping the government on its toes, can you tell me what special qualifications newspaper editors have to make decisions that impact upon my safety and the security of the United States?
Editor: WhyÖwhy, I donít know what youíre talking about. I already explained that the press has a responsibility to keep the public informed.
DNG: Iím talking about what makes you and your brethren qualified to make such important decisions on my behalf. Who appointed you? You claim the government tells lies and I agree. What about you, though? You say I should treat the government with skepticism, but accept your actions without question. Suppose you have a political agenda to push and that influences you publishing decisions? In that case youíre not looking out for me. Youíre using me as an excuse for attaining your own ends. And that bothers me.
Editor: With all due respect, we are professional journalists. Our personal opinions donít enter into our editorial decisions.
Editor: I resent your tone. I think this interview is over.
DNG: Can I ask one final question?
Editor: Make it quick.
DNG: If you print information that I feel places me and my family in harm, do I have any recourse?
Editor: You canít have me recalled, impeached, or vote me out of office. You can refuse to buy my paper, though.
DNG: I detected a chuckle in your voice. I suppose from your perspective this is somewhat humorous. Before you hang up let me say that although we agree on the need for oversight, I think it would be every bit as foolish for me to take your opinion as the absolute truth as it would be to completely trust the government. I donít know what it is, but there has to be a better way.
Editor: Click. Bzzzzz.
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More Blogs by Dennis N. Griffin
Obstacle - Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Do-Not-Call Registry - Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Here We Go - Sunday, June 24, 2007
Lesson Learned? - Sunday, January 28, 2007
Mock Interview - Monday, July 03, 2006
Congressional Approval Ratings - Sunday, June 18, 2006