Saturday, April 22, 2006

Free Press vs. Personal Responsibility

Sometimes you just have to wonder at the things that come out of their mouths. Or from their keyboards, as the case may be.

A case in point: Washington Post staff writer Dana Priest — who won a Pulitzer Prize earlier this week for breaking the story of the secret CIA prisons for terrorist suspects in Europe (which now appeared to have likely never existed at all) — had this to say about the media's responsibility, or lack thereof, concerning the release or reporting of classified documents and information:
Well, actually, the media is not breaking the law by publishing classified information. That's still a safeguard we have in the law. The person/s who turn it over are breaking the law, technically. But the courts and the body politic have always looked at this as the cost of democracy and that is one huge reason why reporters have not be pursued previously. It's the trade off for having a free press.
Taken to another level, it is not the fault of the drunk driver who hit and killed a car full of innocents; it is the bartender who sold him that last drink who should be liable. Or the gun manufacturer, rather than the gangbanger who fired the shot. Or the government, rather than the homeowner who refused to leave when warned of a major hurricane on the way. Or the teacher, rather than the student who refused to study, or the parent who lacked the love or commitment to use discipline or become involved. Or, or, or.

Why has it become so acceptable in our society to abandon personal (or corporate, or media) responsibility? And when did it become acceptable for the nation's media to shirk the law and sometimes even endanger the public by revealing classified or security-sensitive information? Or to make up news or supposed "facts," all in the name of profit and readership?

One last bit from the online discussion caught my eye. While Ms Priest seemed willing to expound on the lack of responsibility needed by the press, this later follow-up question seemed to hit a nerve:
Rockville, Md.: Congrats on the Pulitzer. Do you agree with Bill Bennett's claim that you and others writing on matters of national security using leaked material from anonymous sources should be jailed for your work?

Dana Priest: ah, no.
Two more quick replies, then suddenly Dana had to go.


Blogger Aubrey said...

What's illegal is prior restraint.

A publisher remain liable to civil or criminal action.

4/23/2006 1:32 PM  

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