The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 41.0°F | Fair

Bush Urges Media to Avoid Running bin Laden Speeches

By Ken Fireman

The Bush administration Thursday expanded its effort to ride herd on information about the campaign against terrorism, asking newspapers and all electronic media not to run unedited comments by Osama bin Laden or spokesmen for his al-Qaida network.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said administration officials planned to contact newspapers, radio networks and possibly international television channels to convey the same request made on Wednesday to the five major TV networks: Do not run unedited statements by bin Laden or his representatives because they might contain inflammatory propaganda or hidden instructions to supporters.

“The president is pleased by the reaction of the network executives,” Fleischer said. “There will be some additional phone calls made. ... The same request that was made yesterday of the network executives will also be made to other media because of the same principle ... which is not allowing Osama bin Laden or the terrorists to provide information that could facilitate any of their objectives in terms of killing Americans, bringing harm to Americans or using those messages as a way of sending a code to their terrorists.”

U.S. networks have agreed not to air live, unedited tapes or transmissions of statements from bin Laden or al-Qaida, as they did on Sunday and Tuesday.

Several newspapers ran transcripts of bin Laden’s taped statement. Howell Raines, the executive editor of The New York Times, which ran a transcript of bin Laden’s statement, received a call from Fleischer Thursday morning, according to Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis.

“Howell’s response was that in ordinary circumstances our practice is to fully inform our readers,” she said. “He did say that we would certainly listen to any information from the government that there was a specific danger involved and then make a judgment.”

Anthony Marro, the editor of Newsday, which also ran a transcript of the bin Laden statement, said he would deal with any request on a case-by-case basis. “We’ll use our best independent news judgment in weighing the importance of the information to readers and whatever concerns the government has,” he said. “If there is a compelling argument that damage could be done by publishing something, we’ll listen to it. But our goal is to give readers as much information as we can.”

Several critics of secrecy in government complained that the Bush administration was using the crisis created by the terror attacks to clamp down inappropriately on the flow of information to the public. They cited examples that have already occurred, such as the administration sending a letter to comedian Bill Maher and his recent comments regarding American tactics. “All Americans...need to watch what they do.” said Fleischer regarding the decision.

“The administration has squandered a good deal of its credibility on this subject by overreaching and suppressing information unnecessarily,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, a nonprofit public policy group. “They began with a presumption in their favor that there is a legitimate need for operational security. But they have squandered a good bit of it.”