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Dennis Pluchinsky, a senior intelligence analyst with the Diplomatic Security Service in the State Department, pens an op-ed for the Washington Post that begins, “I accuse the media in the United States of treason.” Pluchinsky describes himself as a veteran “threat analyst” with 25 years of government experience. He writes that the media has no business reporting on any supposed “intelligence failures” surrounding the 9/11 attacks, calling himself “appalled and confused by many of the post-9/11 articles published at home and abroad, in newspapers, news magazines and academic journals, as well as on the Internet.”
Doing Research for Terrorists - Those articles identify the nation’s weak spots, Pluchinsky argues: “our food supply, electrical grids, chemical plants, trucking industry, ports, borders, airports, special events, and cruise ships.” Terrorists would have no trouble gleaning useful tactical details from some of the articles, he says. Worse, “[n]o terrorist group that I am aware of has the time and manpower to conduct this type of extensive research on a multitude of potential targets. Our news media, and certain think tankers and academicians, have done and continue to do the target vulnerability research for them.” America is at war, Pluchinsky argues, and therefore the media must support the government in that war. He writes that some current media reporting is equivalent to giving actionable information to “Japanese and Nazi saboteurs and fifth columnists” during World War II. There is a wealth of open-source information out there already, Pluchinsky writes; the media should not add to it and thereby make terrorists’ jobs even easier.
Media Reporting on 9/11 Hijackers Aiding Terrorists - Pluchinsky writes that the media’s extensive reporting on the 9/11 hijackers—their entries into the US, their movements and actions once in the country—have done nothing but aid future terrorists. These future terrorists will learn from their predecessors’ mistakes, Pluchinsky believes. Indeed, he asserts, media reports on earlier terrorists such as Ramzi Yousef (see April 2, 1993) likely helped the 9/11 terrorists with their plans.
Only Quote Certain Government Officials - In many cases, he writes, reporters should only interview government sources who will exercise caution in giving possibly useful information to those reporters, and refuse to quote experts and specialists from oversight groups, unions, or even private technicians or consultants. “[I]f not for the media, terrorist groups would have no access to the insights and wisdom of these people,” he writes.
Instead of Reporting News, Inform Government - Instead of writing about it in public forums, Pluchinsky recommends that reporters who believe they have found evidence of vulnerability inform someone in “the proposed Department of Homeland Security” or other government agency.
'Patriotism,' Not 'Censorship' - He writes: “A skeptic would call this censorship; a patriot would call it cooperation. This type of cooperation existed during World War II and believe me, this current war is a ‘world war’ also.” The media would win the “Osama bin Laden award” if al-Qaeda gave one out, he states.
Government Must Enforce Censorship - “This type of reporting—carrying specifics about US vulnerabilities—must be stopped or censored,” he concludes. He recommends that “the Department of Homeland Security establish a program where academicians, reporters, think tankers, or any citizen could contact the department and inform them of security vulnerabilities. If the department determined that these vulnerabilities indeed existed, then it could award ‘Homeland Security Protective Security’ certificates to individuals or ‘Homeland Security Gold Stars’ to newspaper or Internet sites that put the country first during a time of war. If displayed on its banner, this star might increase circulation.” The government should “temporarily restrict… the media from publishing any security information that can be used by our enemies. This was necessary during World War II, it is necessary now. These restrictions were backed by the American public during World War II, and I believe the public would support them now.” In World War II, the slogan was, “Loose lips sink ships,” he reminds his readers. He suggests another slogan for today: “Prolific pens propagate terrorist plots.” (Pluchinsky 6/16/2002)
So Extreme It Seems Like Satire, Critic Notes - Liberal pundit Jim Hightower later responds that Pluchinsky’s article is so extreme that he first thought it was satire. After realizing that Pluchinsky is serious, Hightower will note: “Osama’s troops are fairly savvy zealots who figured out how to fly commercial airliners into big buildings, so they already seem to have a pretty clear grasp of our vulnerabilities. It’s not like they’re waiting for Wolf Blitzer to identify targets for them!” A true patriot would not call Pluchinsky’s recommendations “patriotism,” Hightower concludes, “a patriot would call it stupid.” (Hightower 7/12/2002)
Method for Hiding Incompetence - Time’s James Poniewozik attempts to take Pluchinsky’s recommendations more seriously than Hightower, and reminds readers that the same open-source information available to terrorists is also available to government officials, law-enforcement officials, and private citizens who can use that information to help counter future attacks. He also points out that Pluchinsky’s uncritical reliance on government officials to use the knowledge given to it by trusting reporters for the public good flies in the face of what we know of the government’s response to the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, Poniewozik writes, adopting Pluchinsky’s recommendations would do little more than give government officials a shield behind which to hide their errors, miscalculations, and outright incompetence. (Poniewozik 6/18/2002) And the Toronto Star’s Lynda Hurst will observe, “[W]arnings work both ways: If anybody had written about the possibility of terrorists taking flying lessons, that alone might have put a wrench into 9/11.” (Hurst 9/8/2002)
Toronto Star reporter Lynda Hurst examines the US media’s coverage of foreign affairs after 9/11, and concludes that while the media generally intensified its coverage of foreign events and issues after the terrorist attacks, that burst of coverage was short-lived, giving way to the usual focus on sensationalistic celebrity and “true crime” stories, and to a fixation on retaliation and revenge for the attacks. In-depth reporting was shelved in favor of superficial reporting on battle tactics in Afghanistan and prominent displays of flag pins and red-white-and-blue bunting. “In the first few days [after the attacks], they performed a Herculean task and did an epochal job,” says Vince Carlin, an American-born Canadian media executive and chair of the journalism school at Ryerson University. However, the media did not follow through with its initial focus, he says. Within weeks, any attempts to analyze or understand the myriad issues surrounding the terrorist attacks—what Hurst calls “the ‘other’ side of the story”—were, she writes, “subsumed by the demands of… Bush’s with-us-or-against-us war on terrorism.” Carlin notes: “Evil is evil. When something is demonized, there’s no need to analyze it. In that, Bush reflects a fairly broad spectrum of the population.” With the notable exception of the New York Times, Carlin says that the same thinking is in place today: “Americans were not noted for their interest in the rest of the world before 9/11 and they’re not interested after. There are all sorts of places in the world they should be looking at, but they’re not.” Carlin cites the example of ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, whose Canadian ancestry was of little import to viewers before the attacks. Afterwards, Carlin says, when Jennings “tried to bring a more sophisticated approach to the broadcast,” ABC producers “were warned off and went back to cheerleading.” CBS news anchor Dan Rather recently observed, “The fear of being accused of lacking patriotism keeps journalists from asking the toughest of tough questions.” (Hurst 9/8/2002)
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