United States

Some of the most disturbing issues involving freedom of the press in the United States since IAPA's October meeting in Washington are related to the war against terrorism being led by the U.S. Daniel Pearl, South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, was abducted in January in Pakistan and murdered by a group calling itself "The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty." He was investigating local ties between alleged "shoe bomber" Richard C. Reid and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network. His captors first claimed that Mr. Pearl was a member of the CIA, and later of the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad. They demanded, among other things, the immediate release of Pakistani prisoners from Afghanistan who are being interrogated at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They threatened to abduct more U.S. journalists. The Inter American Press Association had demanded in a letter delivered to the Pakistani embassy in Washington that the government in Pakistan do all to win Pearl's release. The Wall Street Journal's publisher, Peter R. Kann, and Managing Editor Paul E. Steiger said in a statement after Pearl's death was confirmed, "His murder is an act of barbarism that makes a mockery of everything Danny's kidnappers claimed to believe in. They claimed to be Pakistani nationalists, but their actions must surely bring shame to all true Pakistani patriots. We will, in coming months, find ways, public and private, to celebrate the great work and good works Danny did." Since Pearl's death, two Daniel Pearl Funds have been created, one by his employer, Dow Jones and Co., and the other one by the Pearl family. This latter is to support causes which inspired Daniel's life and work, to promote cross-cultural understanding and to prevent hate-based violence. A number of suspects have been arrested in Pakistan, but the case remains unsolved. Inside the Pentagon, meanwhile, some Bush Administration officials were busy planning just the sort of disinformation campaign that adds to the vulnerability of reporters and undermines public trust of what they read and hear in the media. The officials were considering whether a newly-created Office of Strategic Influence might disseminate disinformation to aid in the next phase of the war against terrorism. After their intentions were disclosed in the press, the White House and Pentagon quickly denied they would ever try to influence world opinion by spreading falsehoods through the media. The ensuing uproar led to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announcing on February 26 that the Office of Strategic Influence itself would be shut down. He stressed that the Defense Department did not, had not, and would not use disinformation. Another disturbing development had to do with putting out not false information, but no information. The American Society of Newspaper Editors issued a special alert about changes in federal Freedom of Information Act policy that have important implications for newspapers. A memorandum issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft's office in October directed that before a federal agency can release information under a FOIA request, it must consider "national security, enhancing the effectiveness of our law enforcement agencies, protecting sensitive business information and, not least, preserving personal privacy." Many freedom of information advocates have expressed concern that the policy may represent a sharp turn in how this will affect the fundamental flow of information from the federal government. Dan Metcalfe and Richard Huff, co-directors of the Department of Justice's Office of Information and Privacy, said they viewed the policy as a "natural shift" under a new administration but that it should not result in significant changes. Huff said the primary concern in light of the September terrorist attack were requests with law enforcement or national security implications. "There may be a bit less discretionary disclosure going on," Huff said. The ASNE alert asked newspaper editors to pay special attention to the results of FOIA requests made by their newspaper. The ASNE said it was looking for examples of denials that seem to be a departure from past policy. The anthrax scare mentioned in the report to the IAPA General Assembly last October seems to have subsided, and there have been no arrests. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified a "short list" of 18 to 20 people who had the means, opportunity and possible motive to have sent the anthrax-laden letters that killed five people last fall, law enforcement officials said. One of the dead was a staffer at American Media and a number of others at American Media, NBC and CBS were infected in what appeared to be a campaign at least partly targeted at the media. The latest thinking in the Federal Bureau of Investigation is that someone related to an officially-sanctioned laboratory on the U.S. East Coast is probably responsible. In Afghanistan, the Pentagon still overly controls access to areas where journalists want to report. One dramatic clash took place on February 10 when The Washington Post reporter Doug Struck reached the remote spot of Zhawar, Afghanistan, to track down reports that a U.S. missile had mistakenly killed innocent villagers. He was turned away at gunpoint by U.S. soldiers who threatened to shoot him if he went further. Struck said from Afghanistan that "the important thing isn't whether Doug Struck was threatened. It shows the extremes the military is going to in order to keep this war secret, to keep reporters from finding out what's going on." A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense said that he "has a hard time believing" the reporter's claims. In another case in which the Inter American Press Association has protested, Vanessa Leggett, a Texas-based freelance writer, was released from federal custody in Houston when the federal grand jury that subpoenaed her expired on January 4. She had served 168 days in jail for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury and turn over her research materials. She has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, but no decision has been made by the high court. Prosecutors have left open the possibility that they may subpoena and jail her again. Also in Texas, President Bush placed more than 1,800 boxes of documents from his years as the state governor into the care of his father's presidential library at Texas A&M University instead or with the state archives. In New York City, colleagues of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani struck a deal with the city that puts the mayoral records under the control of the Rudolph W. Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs. These two cases worried archivists, who are afraid that by placing public records into private hands the officials and former officials will be able to restrict public and press access to their official papers.