Helping the enemy?
Not everyone was pleased with reporter Carl Prine's investigation into the lack of security at America's chemical facilities -- detailed in Exposé's "Think Like a Terrorist (Pt. 1)." In fact, after his initial reports were published in the PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, he was sharply criticized by several government officials, including the U.S. Attorney General's office, which claimed his reporting "directly aided the enemy" by publicly exposing vulnerable targets. The Pennsylvania Department of Emergency Management went so far as to tell Prine he "might as well send a free subscription to Osama bin Laden, because you're his best friend."
Since 9/11, many journalists have been attacked for revealing information deemed sensitive to national security. When the NEW YORK TIMES reported on a secret operation tracing the financial records of suspected terrorists, the Bush Administration was outraged and the paper was flogged by conservatives.
Some have suggested the resulting clampdown on information and general distrust of dissenting opinions in the media is actually a "war on the press." Others have compared the current hostility towards the press to tensions felt during the Vietnam War.
How do journalists weigh the public's right to know and national security concerns when reporting? The American Journalism Review asked editors at top newspapers this very question. In the AJR article, NEW YORK TIMES Executive Editor Bill Keller says there's a "tacit protocol" for dealing with stories the government deems to be threatening to national security. "If the administration is really serious, somebody fairly senior on their side contacts somebody fairly senior on our side," he says. He also says top editors weigh questions such as: "How fully do the journalists trust their sources? How far do they trust the government officials urging them not to publish? How secret is the secret? Can the story be told in a way that minimizes the risk?"
In Exposé’s “Think Like a Terrorist (Pt. 2),” premiering online this Wednesday, reporter Carl Prine responds to his critics.
>> What do you think? When does the need to protect national security outweigh the public's right to know? And vice versa? Did Prine's reporting serve the public by alerting us about security weaknesses? Or did he put us in danger? Send us your comments below.