By: Jennifer Loven, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt on Friday planned to ask a federal judge to allow his reporters access to American military operations in Afghanistan.
Flynt filed his lawsuit in November, challenging the Defense Department’s denial of his request for writers to accompany soldiers on combat missions in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon cited the “highly dangerous and unique nature” of the operations in its decision, according to a letter Flynt said he received from Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke.
U.S. District Judge Paul Freidman was to hear arguments in the case from both sides.
In the suit, Flynt argues that the media have a constitutional right to document what happens on the front lines — as was common during World War II and the Vietnam War — and that the Defense Department cannot allow some reporters and not others.
In an interview Friday, Flynt acknowledged that the Defense Department must be able to set rules about media coverage, such as limiting the number of reporters allowed to join military operations and censoring some of what they write. But he said the Pentagon’s current rules are “too arbitrary and too capricious.”
“I would like the judge to rule that we have a First Amendment right to cover the war — not just us, but any member of the press,” Flynt said.
While saying he believes mainstream news organizations would do a better job covering the war than his magazine, he wants the Pentagon to establish pools that eventually allow access to all who want it. “If these journalists are willing to put their lives on the line, it is not for the government to say they can’t,” he said.
A Pentagon spokesman declined comment on the lawsuit, and also would not outline the ground rules the Defense Department uses to respond to media requests to accompany troops.
Since the military campaign began, reporters have been allowed aboard U.S. aircraft carriers where bombing missions are launched, and have also flown on airplanes that delivered humanitarian food supplies to Afghanistan. Separately, some news organizations have stationed reporters inside Afghanistan to cover the war from the ground, but until recently they were not allowed to accompany U.S. special operations troops.
Pentagon officials had previously maintained they saw no way American reporters could cover special forces operations inside Afghanistan without endangering troops or providing information to enemies. They also said media curbs in the Afghan war are necessary for the United States to gain cooperation in the war on terrorism from reluctant neighboring countries.