Especially in Time of war

January 13, 1991

It is often said generals always refight the last war. It looks as if some brass in the Pentagon definitely do not want to refight Vietnam in the Persian Gulf, insofar as dealings with the press are concerned. They want to re-fight the Korean War and World War II. They don't want reporters free to cover what they please and to write what they see. They want military censorship.

The military really can't have that. The technology of journalism, the professional skepticism and objectivity of today's journalists and the expectations of Americans of full and fair coverage of wars combine to make old fashioned military control of reporting as out of date as a 1942 Jeep.

The Pentagon said last week that it will allow coverage of hostilities only by "pools" of reporters selected by military commanders and accompanied at all times by military escort. That will be someM-!-what inhibiting - to reporters and to troops who would like to be interviewed. But the press probably can handle this. What it can't handle is the right of military censors to kill stories.

The Pentagon calls this M-tsecurity review.M-v But those familiar with World War II and Korea know that more than security motivates censors. The desire to deflect criticism of individual commanders, units or weapons, to hide the reality of combat's human costs, to avoid a slackening of public morale and support - these are often behind the decision to censor.

"Security review" limited strictly and legitimately to censoring what the Pentagon defines as "Information that would jeopardize an operation or the security of U.S. or coalition forces" would, of course, be acceptable to the American press. Attempts to use that guideline as an excuse to muzzle reporters or turn them into propagandists would not be.

Special pleading on our part? Not at all.

"In a nation such as ours, the final political decisions rest with the people," one of our colleagues wrote years ago. "And the people, so that they may make up their minds, must be given the facts, even in time of war, or perhaps especially in time of war.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.