The Public Interest

The War Goes to Press

Diana West

Summer 1984

BOTH the British war in the Falklands and, more recently, the American invasion of Grenada have prompted an energetic renewal of the tug-of-war between the media and the government over the role of the media in times of war. In the United States, the “news blackout” enforced by the Reagan administration so incensed the nation’s media that several major national press organizations made preparations to sue Defense Secretary Weinberger, abandoning their plans only after it became clear that such a lawsuit could easily fail and might even set a precedent allowing for tighter restrictions. Katherine P. Darrow, the general counsel to the New York Times, put it this way: “Im not sure that there is a First Amendment right to be on the beachhead. Reporters are there because the Government lets them be there.” Short of taking the Secretary of Defense to court, the press groups finally settled on a statement calling for the government to ensure that reporters be present during U.S. military operations. They addressed this to Army Major General Winant Sidle, whom Army General John W. Vessey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appointed to chair a committee on the question of press access to military operations. As of yet, the committee has not released its findings.

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