Vail Valley Voices: Freedom of the press
Vail, CO Colorado
I’m a strong advocate of the press and believe the role of media is critical to our society. As citizens, we are entitled to be informed about all major events affecting our country and us personally.
But, some limitations need to be self-imposed by the press, and so, information that might impact our national security should be withheld voluntarily. Why should the federal government have to beg the press to delay or redact information that might jeopardize our country or put our brave soldiers in harm’s way?
Some media organizations place the public’s right to know above all else. They believe they have a divine right and obligation to inform their audiences of their findings, regardless of the consequences.
This divine right is a myth and very dangerous because it will ultimately result in a public backlash that will degrade freedom of the press.
Such is the case with WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. The disclosure of sensitive communications between the State Department and a large group of world leaders was outrageous for a number of reasons. The most important ones are that the information was obtained illegally by WikiLeaks, and the information deals with confidential communications aimed at keeping peace in the world.
Granted, this was a major journalistic coup for the news organization, but it’s gains have come at the expense of American diplomatic efforts.
WikiLeaks is a rogue company, and its founder has a history of publishing sensitive information. But why haven’t more renowned media institutions refrained from publishing harmful documents? Major newspapers, so concerned about being scooped, have hidden behind the skirt of the First Amendment. It always comes down to economics, power and influence, doesn’t it?
Ironically, the press does not disclose information in rape cases or the names of minors. It’s only right that it refrain from doing so and putting the public’s need to know after common decency.
How is it any different if national security is at stake? The disclosures being made will greatly hamper frank conversations between world leaders, making diplomatic negotiations even more burdensome. And it will put our troops and agents around the world in a precarious position.
I wonder whether WikiLeaks or any other news organizations that published documents have employees who have relatives in the armed services or in the State Department who might have been compromised.
I hope the Justice Department and other enforcement agencies find and prosecute those who violated secrecy laws by disclosing this information. And I hope the American public chastises the news organizations that published the information for their insensitivity and self-interest.
Sal Bommarito is a novelist and frequent visitor to Vail over the past 20 years.
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