The Bush Administration and the News Media: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Lists Actions It Says Were Taken to Restrict Access to Government Information

By Gersh, Debra | Editor & Publisher, March 23, 1991 | Go to article overview

The Bush Administration and the News Media: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Lists Actions It Says Were Taken to Restrict Access to Government Information


Gersh, Debra, Editor & Publisher


The Bush administration and the news media

Restrictions on the media in the Persian Gulf were not an aberration, but rather indicative of the Bush administration's overall approach to the press, according to Jane Kirtley, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Discussing the Reporters Committee's latest report, "The Bush Administration and the News Media," Kirtley pointed out that the Bush administration approach "is no different from the Reagan administration, but it may be outdistancing the Reagan administration in creativity."

The report lists 235 actions it says were taken by the administration to restrict access to government information and intrude on editorial freedom since Bush took office. More than 135 of them took place since the initial report in March 1990, with over half of the new entries involving restrictions on covering the Persian Gulf war.

Kirtley pointed out that comparing actual numbers of incidents between the Reagan and Bush administrations would be like comparing apples and oranges, primarily because the Reporters Committee's methods of reporting incidents have changed.

For example, she said, all media incidents involving the Grenada invasion were listed under one heading at the time, while in the new report the Persian Gulf war warrants some 62 entries.

"We were accused last year of trivializing the issue and focusing on minutiae," Kirtley noted. "What we're trying to show with this list is the sheer magnitude and variety of instances that occur."

While the "Persian Gulf policy is certainly the most disturbing," Kirtley said it should not "blind people to the other issues," such as Federal Communications Commission policies on indecent expression and a proposed bill that would prosecute journalists and whistle-blowers for espionage for unauthorized electronic reception of classified information.

Citing "echoes of the Nixon era," Kirtley finds the "us versus them" mentality of the government troubling; that journalists and others seeking to get information out are somehow politically incorrect.

The media, however, "have only ourselves to blame" for not reporting on the issue, she continued, noting that the media must not abrogate their responsibilities to question the government in order to be popular.

The Reporters Committee report lists items both by category and chronologically. Categories are divided into Disinformation, Freedom of Information-Records, Plumbing Leaks, Policing Thought, Prior Restraint, Secret Government, Stop the Press, and War in the Gulf.

The following is a summary of events from 1990, excluding those related to the war, as reported by the Reporters Committee.

DISINFORMATION

January: Bush tells reporters no aides have been sent on any secret missions lately, but at the same time Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Gates are returning from a secret trip to Europe where they briefed leaders there on plans for troop cuts. White House officials say the trip was not a secret mission but a "routine consultation with allies."

February: White House Chief of Staff John Sununu orders changes in a Bush speech to underscore the problem of global warming; original speech emphasis had been on administration efforts to solve the problem. Also, Bush tells reporters a conference on Germany by the four powers is not appropriate "at this juncture," but the next day officials from England, France, the United States and the Soviet Union announce plans for a conference, which the State Department says is based on U.S. initiatives.

April: Although Defense Secretary Dick Cheney tells of the bombing accuracy of two Stealth fighter planes during their Panama mission, in actuality one of the planes missed its target by 160 yards. An investigation finds that the chief of the Tactical Air Command decided not to tell his superiors about missing the target, later conceding the situation could have been handled better. …

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