Should there be limits to wartime censorship?

Barbara Tuckman, a journalist during World War II, wrote in her book, Stillman and the American Experience in China: 1911-45how the American government used American journalists to ‘work for the war effort’ by holding back information, giving them false information and even asking journalists to provide false information.

I remember stories that my mother told me about China.  She and my father, a young Naval officer, were stationed in Shanghai prior and during the bombing of Shanghai by the Japanese in 1937.  My mother told me wondrous and exciting stories about China.  This led to my lifelong interest in Asia and history.  I was raised on stories about Chiang Kai-shek (Jiǎng Zhōngzhèng [蔣中正]), the Chinese and a world so different from my own.  Later when I studied about modern China at university, I found a discrepancy between her stories and what I read in history books.  Now I know that my mother was repeating stories that she learned from the contemporary press and in some cases those stories were false.

What do you think?  Is censorship necessary during war?  To what extent?  Should the public know more so that they have an opportunity to respond to inappropriate behavior of its government during wartime?  Remember the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War?  or torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq?

Yesterday Associated Press apoligized for firing Ed Kennedy, one of its wartime journalists.  Mr.Kennedy defied American military censorship by announcing the end of World War II a day before the Americans wanted it announced.  The American government had agreed with Stalin to keep  the momentous news quiet for one day so the Soviets could take front stage in the surrender of the Nazis.  Kennedy lost his job with Associated Press for his transgression.  I am sure the other journalists who obeyed the censorship weren’t too excited by Kennedy’s scoop.

Edward Kennedy: AP Apologizes For Firing Journalist Who Defied Embargo And Reported End Of World War II

“NEW YORK (AP) by David B. Caruso — In World War II’s final moments in Europe, Associated Press correspondent Edward Kennedy gave his news agency perhaps the biggest scoop in its history. He reported, a full day ahead of the competition, that the Germans had surrendered unconditionally at a former schoolhouse in Reims, France.

For this, he was publicly rebuked by the AP, and then quietly fired.

The problem: Kennedy had defied military censors to get the story out. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Harry Truman had agreed to suppress news of the capitulation for a day, in order to allow Russian dictator Josef Stalin to stage a second surrender ceremony in Berlin. Kennedy was also accused of breaking a pledge that he and 16 other journalists had made to keep the surrender a secret for a time, as a condition of being allowed to witness it firsthand.

Sixty-seven years later, the AP’s top executive is apologizing for the way the company treated Kennedy.  ‘It was a terrible day for the AP. It was handled in the worst possible way,’ said president and CEO Tom Curley.

Kennedy, he said, ‘did everything just right.’ Curley rejected the notion that the AP had a duty to obey the order to hold the story once it was clear the embargo was for political reasons, rather than to protect the troops.

‘Once the war is over, you can’t hold back information like that. The world needed to know,’ he said in an interview.” (for the full story, read Huffington Post‘s site.)

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One response to “Should there be limits to wartime censorship?

  1. donfitzmahan

    My first reaction to this is connected to my role as a school leader. There are times when I include certain people in decision making, but not everyone. At times l may ask that some facts be kept confidential for the moment. Those not in the “inner circle” do not have all the facts and do not see the bigger picture. Such is the role of leadership, a role we often ask others to assume, so that the rest of us can get on with our own work. We are happy to relinquish our “right to know,” in fact, we prefer it – much of the time. Can we then be upset when leadership exercises this right to control the dissemination of information? It is obviously not that cut and dried, but what are the reasons why governmental limitations on the distribution of information are legitimized sometimes and sometimes not?

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