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U.S. media shines spotlight on self over drones

by Rob Lever

AFP-JIJI

The U.S. media has turned a spotlight on itself after three news organizations admitted keeping the location of a drone base in Saudi Arabia secret at the request of the U.S. administration.

The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Associated Press this week acknowledged withholding the information since 2011, provoking harsh criticism from media watchers and fellow reporters — even their own.

Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple wrote that there are “good reasons to stiff the government’s request for intelligence complicity.”

Wemple said the construction of a drone base “is simply news in and of itself” and that The New York Times “acted responsibly” by backing out of the deal and publishing the news.

Glenn Greenwald, a columnist on civil liberties and U.S. national security issues for The Guardian newspaper, said the case was the latest in a series in which key media colluded with officials in Washington.

“Yet again, the U.S. media has been caught working together to conceal obviously newsworthy government secrets,” he wrote.

“The excuses for concealing this information are frivolous.”

The Washington Post said it “refrained from disclosing the location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an Al-Qaeda affiliate.”

The Post said it decided to publish the news after learning that “another news organization” was planning to reveal the location, “effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.”

Associated Press spokesman Paul Colford said the organization “on rare occasions withholds information when officials offer a compelling argument that the information could imperil national security or specific individuals.”

“When the location of the base was made public Tuesday night, the AP felt national security concerns no longer applied and published the location,” Colford said.

Complicating the story was the fact that the location of the drone base was reported in 2011 by The Times of London and by Fox News.

The news was revealed as the architect of the U.S. drone war against Al-Qaeda, John Brennan, faced a grilling in Congress over his nomination to lead the CIA.

Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern University journalism professor, said that because the news was previously reported, the actions by the news outlets could be seen as an unhealthy collusion.

“It makes it look like they are playing footsie with the administration in a way that is totally improper for an independent press,” Kennedy said.

Stephen Ward, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin, said the national security argument now appears specious in view of the decision by The Times to publish the information.

“The reasoning by The Times that it had to give the location because of political considerations — Brennan’s candidacy for the CIA — undermines the case for justifying not naming the location in the first place,” Ward said.