Browse Topics



New Role for Media in New War
An Essay by NPR's Daniel Schorr

audio Listen to Schorr's essay.

Daniel Schorr
Daniel Schorr

Oct. 14, 2001 -- When President Bush exploded over members of Congress who leaked information from a classified intelligence briefing, it struck me as unusual that he had no harsh words for the leakee. That was The Washington Post, which quoted administration officials as speaking of the high probability, perhaps 100 percent, of another major terrorist attack on American targets.

The Post had been careful. National editor Liz Spayd told me there had been consultations with the administration and some changes made in the story in the interest of accuracy. Furthermore, Bob Woodward, who worked on the article, told me that he had killed another story when persuaded by the administration that it might harm the national interest.

A world in which members of the press are regarded as more responsible than members of Congress is a new world. And the cooperation extends further. After a conference call with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, executives of the five major television news organizations made an unprecedented joint arrangement to cut back on the use of videotaped statements by Osama bin Laden. Ms. Rice argued that the tapes enabled bin Laden to vent propaganda intended to incite hatred, which might lead to the killing of more Americans. She also mentioned the possibility that bin Laden might use the tapes to send coded messages to terrorists, although the White House later said it had no evidence of that.

"These are different times, where media executives are eager not to be branded as unpatriotic."

Daniel Schorr

A propaganda control agreement among highly competitive news organizations is a whole new concept in patriotic cooperation. I don't recall any effort to limit the propaganda content of television statements by Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic. Indeed, I'm old enough to remember hearing Adolf Hitler screaming his form of propaganda on radio in the 1930s. But these are different times, where media executives are eager not to be branded as unpatriotic.

The administration can even get media help in its own propaganda campaign. The Fox network agreed to preempt other programming to produce a special episode of its "America's Most Wanted" crime show. The program featured a roster of 22 terrorist suspects led by bin Laden as announced by President Bush, with offers of multimillion-dollar rewards for capture. It is certainly a long way from 1968, when Secretary of State Dean Rusk, irritated by a news conference question about Vietnam, asked, "Whose side are you on?"

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst for NPR.