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Trying to Censor Reality
he wisdom of the US. invasion of Grenada will be debated for years. The unprecedented exclusion of the American press from that operation requires no debate; clearly it was a bad mistake, an outrage to press freedom and an ominous symptom of a tendency in the Reagan Administration to try to control the flow of information.
All Administrations attempt to do this, up to a point. Actually the Reagan White House has been far more intelligent and helpful in its dealings with the press than was customary during the Nixon age of paranoia and the Carter era of petty meanness. Thus the attempt to fight a little war in secret, out of range of reporters and cameramen, is all the more startling and unfortunate.
The explanations offered by the Administration were preposterous. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger argued that the armed forces could not have guaranteed the safety of journalists. But American journalists have never demanded such guarantees. They have worked and died in the Civil War, World War I, on the beaches of Normandy and Okinawa, in Seoul and Saigon. Weinberger's other reason, that the commander in the field did not want the press along, was a glaring cop-out. No question was raised about press coverage aiding the enemy; that was wise. The press invariably accepts ground rules on matters of true security, where lives and operations are at stake.
Why should anyone care about this? Many people might assume that the press was protesting against its exclusion out of a prurient or even commercial itch, annoyed at missing some sensational headlines and pictures. That is simply not the case. The press has a serious quasi-constitutional function as a representative of the public. Obviously the White House or the Pentagon remembered the Viet Nam "living-room war" and the revulsion it created. Obviously they admired and envied Margaret Thatcher's dealing with the press during the Falklands invasion, when the Iron Lady's government allowed only a small contingent of journalists along, under wraps.
It was quickly apparent that banning reporters and later giving them only a few quick guided tours hurt the Administration itself. Whenever the press is excluded, speculation and rumor take over. Several days after the invasion there was still determined resistance here and there, but no one knew how much, how serious or by whom. The result was vague and nagging alarm, a suspicion that the world's largest military power had trouble subduing a flyspeck island. However that impression might be dispelled later, some of the damage will linger. More important, the Administration's case for the invasion rests increasingly on the assertion that the Cubans had been attempting to transform Grenada into a sort of island fortress. Eyewitness reports from correspondents might have made that claim quickly convincing. Their absence may cause the question to persist: What was the Administration trying to hide?
Certainly the press has no corner on virtue-far from it. Journalists exaggerate, misunderstand, mislead. They can be irresponsible in big ways and in small. It is hard to forgive those television reporters who, after the Beirut attack, intruded on anxious families with fatuous and cruel questions like "How would you feel if your son were among the dead?" On a larger scale, it can be argued that ever since Watergate much of the press has been too automatically hostile toward government.
But freedom of the press, like all freedom, has its risks. It cannot apply only to journalists who are always responsible or posi
tive. Such freedom would not be freedom at all. On balance, for all their doubts about the press, Americans have usually felt that it represented a pretty good bargain: the occasional outrageous or merely irritating lapse is an acceptable price for journalism's role as witness and watchdog.
Secrecy is addictive. Perhaps the greatest danger in the banning of the press from the Grenada operation is that the Administration will try to repeat it in other situations. The Grenada ban is not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern. Members of the Reagan Administration try not only to control the news and the "image" of its doings but also to shape a whole climate of opinion. The Administration has been active in excluding foreign speakers deemed dangerous or subversive. It has tried to discredit as propaganda fairly innocuous foreign films, and it has fought sharply to limit the Freedom of Information Act. To plug leaks, it has made an estimated 2.5 million federal employees subject to random lie detector tests.
Reagan also has moved to establish sweeping new rules requiring senior Government employees with access to highly classified information to submit any writings-books, articles, letters, speech drafts--for advance Government clearance if there is any possibility that they allude to sensitive activities. This rule, temporarily stalled in the Senate, would apply to these Government employees for their entire lifetime. Had it been in force in the past, it would have required previous clearance and presumably endless battles with censors by writers ranging from Grover Cleveland to George Marshall to Henry Kissinger.
There is no denying that the Government must be able to do certain things in secret. Diplomacy is one of them. So are covert activities, in which all nations, democratic or otherwise, engage. Arguably the threat on Grenada should have been handled by the CIA rather than by the Marines and paratroopers except that for years now, the CIA has been unable to do anything much without almost instant publicity. But the fault for this absurd situation lies more with Congress and Government officials than with the press. It is also true that the Freedom of Information Act has been abused. But taken together, the Administration's measures suggest a certain mind-set: the notion that events can be shaped by shaping their presentation, that truth should be a controlled substance.
All of this does a real disservice to Ronald Reagan. In many ways he is the most open President we have had in a long time. It is hard to question his sincerity. When he speaks, he radiates conviction. He is attempting to do something important about America's position in the world, to restore its strength and self-respect. One can question specific acts and policies, but the overall goal is urgent and valid. That goal, however, is jeopardized by mispercep tion of what the world is really like, what works and what does not work. The left-wing liberals have been the master illusionists for years, and their image of the world is as mistaken as any rightwing ideologue's. Reagan has a real opportunity to steer between the wishful thinking of the doves and the vengeful daydreams of the hawks, to introduce more realism into American foreign policy. In fact, he has shown signs of doing precisely that in recent months. The crude attempt by bureaucrats in and out of uniform to censor reality, to manage not only news but history, undermines that realistic trend. It also undercuts the trust the country still has in Reagan himself.
-By Henry Grunwald TIME, NOVEMBER 7, 1983
U.S. Press Curbs in Grenada May Affect International Debate
By JONATHAN FRIENDLY
kinds of news.
An official in the State Department's
Mr. Sussman said that although he
noting that the controls were less re
An Insult, Publisher Says
Dwight Whylie, a Canadian Broad-
under a program sponsored by Unesco.
ey there! I'm talking to you. I'm
H talking to those of you who have
not paid any attention to what has been going on between the government and the press, who either think that the press had it coming or that this is just a fight between big government and big media and has nothing to do with you. Wrong. It has only to do with you.
I am referring, of course, to the government's attempts to first keep the invasion of Grenada a secret and then later to obstruct the reporting of it. The first is no big deal. The government is entitled to keep a secret or two, especially if the purpose is to save lives.
As for the second, it is a different matter entirely. The reason the government deterred reporters from filing stories, the reason it made the entire island off-base to journalists and then opened it up only on a selective basis, had nothing to do with the media. It had to do with you the people who either read or watch the news.
t had to do with the fact that the government did not trust you to come to the right conclusion. It thought certain facts would only turn your little heads. This is the ultimate example of the government playing nanny, and deciding, for your own good, of course, that there is certain information you should not have.
The immediate genesis of this policy is the experience of Vietnam. Many critics of the press, especially on the political right, believe that it was the press, not the Vietnamese, who beat the American military in Vietnam. What the communists could not do with bullets, the press accomplished by demoralizing the homefront. This is a neat little theory, laid out in all its absurdity in the
current issue of the neo-conservative journal, The Public Interest. It merely overlooks 50,000 dead, illogical war aims and a corrupt regime in Saigon.
The same sort of thinking has been applied by the same sort of people to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. That. too, could have been a success had it not been for unseemly newspaper and television reporting-all of it emphasizing civilian casualties at the expense of the military and political goals of the invasion. Thus, once again, a glorious and wonderful war was spoiled by a press that emphasized the sensational at the expense of prosaic-the fact that Israel was doing the dirty, but the necessary.
There is something to all this, of course. No one would deny that the picture of the child burned by napalm is a lot more gripping than a dryly written policy paper on why the napalm had to be dropped in the first place. And it is true that all wars, even just ones, entail suffering and horror-much of it visited upon the innocent.
ut it is also true that the two wars
Beted Vietnam and Lebanon were
fought in the wrong place at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons and that both governments had ample opportunity to make their cases. Both governments, having done that, lost the debate. Either domestic or world opinion reached different conclusions. The way around that, of course, is to silence one side of the debate.
This is what was effectively done in Grenada. The government made sure that the public would not have its head turned by the usual pictures of carnage. And it suceeded. For the first time in a long time, we fought a war that resulted --at least where television was concerned-in no dead, no suffering, no civilian casualties. It was a most lovely war. But it was hardly the whole truth.
This management of the news is practiced in countries where the people are not trusted to come to the right decision. It is standard practice in Third World and communist countries where there is no concept of truth-just information that's helpful and information that's not. The latter is proscribed always in the name of the people and always for the good of the people.
That's why I'm talking to you. You're wrong if you think this flap between the press and the government is none of your business. It is your business because it is not about the press at all, but about you. It's the press the government blames. Because it's you it fears.
Information Blackout Revives Old Issues
Again a decision to keep reporters
By David Maraniss
The U.S. military had just com-
"Do not talk to me about what we
Many considered the news media
All this happened two decades ago
In the cause of making America
It has issued directives, temporar-
"It is a pattern of activities," said
When asked to respond to such
that the free flow of information in government is inherently good.
"We went through a period where
"Certainly there was great disil-
When asked by a Los Angeles
"A startling lesson of the Grenada
The findings of a Washington
control news reports out of Grenada
Nearly half-48 percent-of the
The poll was conducted more
There were two elements to the
"The reason is of course the com-
they were not able to guarantee any kind of safety to anyone, including course anybody participating, and that you have to maintain some kind of awareness of the problems going into areas where we don't know what kind of conditions totally will be encountered.
Another former public affairs utficial in the Defense Department
during the Vietnam era, Daniel Z. Henkin, questioned the wisdom of leaving such a decision entirely in the hands of the military.
"I think in our form of govern-
One White House official said the
A photo sent from Barbados purports to show Soviet-made vehicles attacking Fort Rupert in Grenada last month before the Oct. 19 slaying of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. It was sold to the AP by an agent for a photographer requesting anonymity.
Salvador. "There has been a kind of
It is from this perspective that
There also is an equally long tra-