Journalists Discuss Right to Know in a Post 9/11 World

On the sixth anniversary of September 11 several members of the print media and a representative from the National Security Archive gathered at American University to discuss “The Freedom of Press in a Post 9-11 Era.” Washington D.C.’s public radio station, WAMU, has archived a recording of the discussion on their website. The panel lasts about an hour and touches on a number of issues the media, particularly the print media, face under the current administration. Panelists argue that current climate of secrecy and fear has hurt the media’s standing in the public sphere. Ken Paulsons contends that “without an aggressive marketing campaign” the First Amendment probably wouldn’t be approved today. He goes on to say that in the weeks after 9/11 fifty percent of Americans felt the First Amendment went “too far.” Journalists ought to do a better job, Paulson says, reminding the public that they work for them. In addition, viewing freedom of the press and national security as mutually exclusive overly simplifies the situation; tension will always exist between the secrecy required for national security and the transparency our democratic system engenders. All the journalists on the panel say that they take the administration’s requests to hold or kill a story seriously, but ultimately have to weigh these requests against the public’s right to know. The panelists assert that part of the way we preserve liberty is to use the freedoms guaranteed to us in the Constitution. If journalists push for information and transparency it is only in an effort to hold the government accountable– not callous indifference to the fate of the nation. Near the end of the discussion (around minute 49) the journalists on the panel discuss the differences between print journalism and the kind of information presented on TV and the Internet. Needless to say, they come down solidly on the side of the print media. American Forum is sponsored by the School of Journalism at American University. They host a number of events throughout the year examining the state of the media.

Ashley Bowen

Ashley Bowen is a former CCT Graduate Student.