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Access Also Can Be Limited By Denying Reporters The Ability To Get To The Scene Of A News Story

By Author: Arsenalo
Total Articles: 116

Manipulation through control of access is best illustrated by relationships between reporters and government officials. The reporter wants information, and the official expects something in exchange--a friendly hearing, a neutral report, or muted criticism, for example. Concealing the actual source of information is often a condition of access.

Bill Green, former Washington Post ombudsman, explains the "rough categories of attribution" this way. When a source speaks Breitling Replica Watches or holds a briefing "on the record," reporters can and do "quote the source by name." When a reporter attends a "backgrounder," he or she "can use the material but not the source." A "deep backgrounder," according to Green, "calls on the reader for an act of faith, and it produces some familiar phrases: 'it is known that' or 'it is believed that.' In other words, the fact that it came from a source cannot be revealed." When a statement is given "off the record," the reporter knows he or she "can't use it after all." Green acknowledges that this system of code phrases is necessary to elicit information that would otherwise be inaccessible but also notes that "the code and its vocabulary call credibility into question."11 (See Figure 4.1.)

Under such circumstances, readers and viewers are asked to trust reporters and to take their news judgments on faith, a situation that makes reporters extremely vulnerable not only to manipulation but also to backlash from the audience. Some news outlets now have a policy of trying to help readers understand who the source is, or where his or her sympathies are, by the wording of the attribution: "sources opposed to the plan," "Democratic sources in Congress “or” a political consultant not affiliated with either campaign."

Access also can be limited by denying reporters the ability to get to the scene of a news story. By expelling reporters from a country, its government ensures that internal unrest will not be transmitted, at least not by them, around the world. In 1983, during the U.S. government's invasion of Grenada, the press was kept out. A blue-ribbon commission headed by a retired major general, Winant Sidle, concluded that this action had been improper. In the future, the report stated, military commanders should make provision for at least a pool of reporters to witness such military operations. The Pentagon adopted the Sidle recommendations as its official policy.

In December 1989, the procedure was put to the test. Reporters selected to form the pool concluded that the policy was ignored during the invasion of Panama. Pool television correspondent Fred Francis noted, "The pool was repeatedly denied or ignored when it asked for access to front-line troops, wounded soldiers--simple interviews." When pool reporters asked to observe the Omega Seamaster Replica Watches securing of Panama strongman Manuel Noriega's headquarters, they were told that it was "too dangerous." The army major general whose paratroops had taken the international airport informed journalists, "Sorry, my operational orders are that I cannot let you talk with any of my men. I can't speak with you."12 By denying reporters' access to the invasion itself and by permitting them in only after the territory was presumably secured, the Bush administration minimized the likelihood that news stories would focus on bureaucratic inefficiency, needless civilian deaths, or confused soldiers who did not know the reasons that they were fighting and dying. In 1991, only a select pool of reporters was allowed access to information about the Persian Gulf War, and even those reports were censored.

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