News War Part II

Earlier today, Raney Aronson held an online chat about the second installment of the PBS documentary that she produced, “News War: Secrets, Sources & Spin.” Some excerpts:

    Washington: Has there ever been a more acromonious relationship between the press and the government than we see today? (I’ve seen the first two parts of the series and I have to say Frontline never fails to get the story — keep up the excellent work.)

    Raney Aronson: That’s a great question and one we asked repeatedly as we reported on this story. I think the answer is not quite black and white – but, we do believe that we have not seen such a contentious relationship between the administration and the press since the Nixon era. If you look at the relationship between the press and the government it’s always acrimonious – look at President Clinton’s annoyance with the press over the Lewinsky scandal. But, what?s different about this administration is that early on they articulated to reporter Ken Auletta that they really do not believe that the press has a check and balance function ? and Mark McKinnon (Bush?s long time media advisor) confirmed this on camera with us as well. I think the difference is that while Presidents in the past may have felt that way about the press ? they would be very political in how they talked about the press?s role etc., and would never say that – while this administration has been very open about their feelings about the press and have said repeatedly that they are disappointed in the mainstream media?s actions ? especially when it comes to publishing national security secrets.

Read more excerpts when you click below…

    New York: The Washington Post report on conditions at Walter Reed has clearly demonstrated the value of a free and unencumbered press, and has been a wake-up call to Washington regarding the press’s watchdog role. Do you think now that there might be a good chance of passing a federal law protecting press sources? Thanks. Swift Action Promised at Walter Reed (Post, Feb. 21)

    Raney Aronson: That was such a terrific story by the Post – and I hope that reporting like that and others has an impact. The debate over a federal shield law for journalists has gone on for years now – interestingly part of the issue over why some believe we don’t have a shield law has to do with the journalistic community not being able to define who a journalist is! So in other words journalists can’t decide on who deserves the protection and so it gets stalled along the way.

    New York: Raney — there were lots of government officials alleging that great damage has been done to the national security by press revelations, but I don’t recall Lowell Bergman asking for specifics. I would like to know exactly what has been compromised. Was anyone asked this question? Thanks.

    Raney Aronson: Thanks for your question – if you go to our website you’ll see Lowell push them further for details – especially in the interview with John Miller and John McLaughlin. Essentially what McLaughlin says is that you can’t prove the harm done – but he believes (and so do many others inside the intelligence community) that disclosing these secrets does do harm – by alerting the terrorists of our secret programs and methods (especially, he argued – the second NSA story had such an impact). But this is a great debate – Keller, and the reporters believe that the terrorists know what we’re up to and that they didn’t reveal anything that would harm national security.