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in Cooperation With
Steve adds a clear caveat to his self-censorship exception: “[I]n general, we ought to discourage reporters and scholars from allowing national attachments to get in the way of dealing us what they know.” I fully agree with this, and so too would every journalist I know. My perhaps-too-provocative use of the term “media patriotism” to describe the reasons for national security self-censorship was not meant to suggest – as some have taken it to suggest – that journalists do or should self-censor whenever it helps the home team. As I tried to make clear, the self-censorship exception is (and is conceived by journalists to be) a narrow one, and in general the American media reports many more national security secrets about the American government than its global colleagues do about their governments. Most of the criticisms in this country about the American media’s national security publication record – including my own criticisms – are that they publish too much, not too little.
A final point. Steve and Glenn Greenwald are right that one limitation on journalistic “objectivity” is the symbiotic relationship between the American media and governmental sources. (The best description of this relationship remains Max Frankel’s affidavit in the Pentagon Papers case.) This is a dangerous relationship for all the reasons they describe. But there is another side to the story. Journalists get most of their secrets from government officials. Extracting these secrets sometimes requires the development and maintenance of relationships with the officials. And sometimes, I am sure, journalists don’t report something newsworthy because they don’t want to burn a government source for the next story. It is a messy process, full of trade-offs and errors, and one fraught with the danger of cooptation. But from Steve’s and Glenn Greenwald’s perspective of wanting maximum possible disclosure, it is hard to imagine a better alternative. For if we somehow ended the process of reporters developing and protecting governmental sources in ways that Steve and Glenn Greenwald find objectionable, many fewer secrets would be reported. The messy American system in the aggregate does a remarkable job, unmatched anywhere in the world, of keeping the public informed about secret U.S. government activity.