A front-page story by USA Today reporting that US special forces had already been covertly operating in Afghanistan for two weeks has stirred up controversy for journalists. At issue is whether USA Today's story, which was picked up by AP and CNN, may have endanger US military forces. The Boston Globe writes, "with the administration stressing the need for secrecy and stealth, some of the public reaction [to the USA Today story] accused journalists of unpatriotically divulging covert military action.
Washington Post staff writer Howard Kurtz writes, "As the administration gears up for what President Bush has described as a new kind of war, many journalists are growing concerned that they will have less information and less access to U.S. troops than ever before. Even the use of deliberate disinformation cannot be ruled out." He continues by quoting President Bush. "Let me condition the press this way: Any sources and methods of intelligence will remain guarded in secret," Bush said.
Author Normon Solomon warns that "more than ever, as journalists report for duty, the news profession is morphing into PR flackery for Uncle Sam. In effect, a lot of reporters are saluting the commander-in-chief and awaiting orders.
Coverage of the September 11th terrorist attack and the pending military response contains clamors for blind and immediate revenge.
"Suddenly, dramatically, unalterably the world has changed," observes Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz. "And that means journalism will also change, indeed is changing before our eyes. The presidency will become a constant focus in ways not seen since the height of Ronald Reagan's struggle against the so-called Evil Empire. Reporting on the military, the spy services, diplomacy and global terrorism will heat up after years of back burner status." Kurtz also thinks that government censorship of the press may see a revival.
Vanessa Leggett, a college English teacher and freelance writer, is languishing in jail after she refused to turn her notes over to the FBI, which is investigating a murder case she is writing about. The FBI rejected her claims of being a journalist because she hasn't published yet. She insists that she is "sacrificing personal liberty" to maintain her "journalistic freedom." But should the FBI be deciding who is or isn't a journalist?
The National Association of Science Writers (NASW) is debating the ethics of a job advertisement sent to its members from Chicco Chandler, a PR firm that "works exclusively with the pharmaceutical/biotech industry" and boasts of past involvement in PR for Viagra, Celebrex and Zoloft, with clients including Agouron, Amgen, Bayer, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Novo Nordisk and Pfizer.
With fewer journalism jobs available, many reporters and editors are looking at PR jobs to pay the bills. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 31-35% increase in PR jobs, versus a 0-9% increase in journalism, which also pays less than PR. For journalists worried that flacking means selling out, PR Week advises that "many believe it's an inevitable career progression." PR Week quotes Lou Colasuonno, a former editor at the New York Post and New York Daily News before turning PR practitioner, who says, "I had accomplished all I could in [the journalism] field.
In a major surrender to Israeli diplomatic pressure, BBC officials in London have banned their staff in Britain and the Middle East from referring to Israel's policy of murdering its guerrilla opponents as "assassination." BBC reporters have been told that in future they are to use Israel's own euphemism for the murders, calling them "targeted killings."
The San Francisco Independent Media Center reports that in response to escalating police sweeps and media vilification of homeless people, protesters plastered the front doors of the San Francisco Chronicle offices with copies of biased news coverage taken from the Chronicle's own pages and demanded an end to an editorial policy that is aiding and abetting the harassment and criminalization of homeless people.