Northampton Press

Monday, December 9, 2019

Editor's View

Thursday, May 23, 2013 by The Press in Opinion

Responsible reporting must continue without intervention of the government

Journalists are yet again under attack.

The most recent attack is from the United States Justice Department, which seized cellphone records of Associated Press reporters and editors in the process of investigating what it calls a national security leak.

Associated Press President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt has called the seizure of records "unconstitutional."

In a May 19 AP article on the seizure of records, "Pruitt pointed to a May 7, 2012, story that disclosed details of a successful CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot around the one year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden. The AP delayed publication of that story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security."

"We respected that, we acted responsibly, we held the story," Pruitt said.

AP published the story only after two government entities said the threat had passed, he said.

Pruitt said the Obama administration still asked that the story be held until an official announcement about the bomb plot was made the next day.

AP reports "the news service viewed the story as important because White House and Department of Homeland Security officials were saying publicly there was no credible evidence of a terrorist threat to the U.S. around the one-year anniversary of bin Laden's death. So that was misleading to the American public."

"We felt the American public needed to know this story," Pruitt said.

More recently, the Washington Post reports Fox News Chief Correspondent James Rosen may face criminal charges for allegedly reporting government secrets in June 2009. Attempting to find out how Rosen learned about a CIA analysis, The Washington Post said FBI investigators looked at Rosen's security access card to see his state department building activity, studied his phone records and subpeoned his personal email.

According to AP news officials, its reporters are seeing an effect on their news gathering since the Justice Department's subpoena.

"Officials that would normally talk to us and people we talk to in the normal course of news gathering are already saying to us that they're a little reluctant to talk to us," Pruitt said. "They fear that they will be monitored by the government."

All journalists count on neighbors and contacts to give leads about stories; they help lead us in the right direction to tell the stories accurately.

Take the case of Sara Ganim, a CNN reporter who, while working for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, broke the story last year on Jerry Sandusky and led the coverage of the scandal when it became national news.

For her efforts, she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Ganim said she remembers talking with a source about a boy who came forward to police and alleged sex crimes involving Sandusky.

That source may not have stepped forward if the possibility existed that he might be identified by cellphone records or emails.

After talking with many people, Ganim had enough information to write a story on Sandusky being investigated.

Ganim said she relied on information from five anonymous sources to fill in the details of the story. Again, would sources come forward if they felt they would be identified?

Her diligent efforts stopped Sandusky from any further contact with children.

Yes, there are journalists and news organizations who want to be "first" to get the story out there and end up reporting incorrect information before fully checking the facts.

But there are many more responsible journalists who take the time to interview multiple sources, check their facts and then write the story.

This point was reiterated at the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association's Keystone Press Awards banquet May 18 in Harrisburg.

Guest speaker Matt DeRienzo, group editor for 21st Century Media News, LLC, in Connecticut, reported on the effect the Sandy Hook shootings had on his organization.

He thanked the numeous reporters, photographers and videographers, some from Pennsylvania, who helped his group tell the story of the community that suffered such a grievious loss.

DeRienzo recalled his frustration on getting "scooped" on five different stories all as events were unfolding – and all proved inaccurate – because of the need for those other organizations to be "first" to get the news out.

Responsible journalists, such as DeRienzo and Ganim, depend on reliable sources for information.

Those sources often require anonymity without fear of retribution. Taking that guarantee of safety away restricts a journalist's ability to gather information and tell the public what it needs to know.

The public deserves to know the truth and journalists rely on sources to uncover the many layers leading to the facts.

When a government impedes journalists' ability to gather news, it definitely impacts our constitutional right to a free press and creates a situation where rumor is more likely to be reported as fact.




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