By: Sam Hananel, Associated Press Writer
(AP) A federal court Wednesday threw out a claim by Hustler Publisher Larry Flynt that his magazine’s reporter was unlawfully denied access to U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said the Pentagon has placed the reporter on a list of journalists who would be allowed to travel with ground troops under special conditions.
Friedman said because Defense Department officials did not formally deny access to the Hustler reporter, he had no jurisdiction to address the issue of whether journalists have a constitutional right to accompany U.S. troops engaged in ground combat. “The mere existence of a legal disagreement about the scope of the First Amendment does not make that disagreement fit for judicial review,” Friedman ruled.
Flynt said he plans to appeal. “I anticipated that they would rule against us because in time of war the judiciary needs to defer to the executive branch,” Flynt said in a telephone interview from his Los Angeles office. “We’re going to ask the appellate court and hopefully the Supreme Court for a definitive ruling. Do we have a First Amendment right to cover the war, period?”
Defense Department spokesman Col. Jay DeFrank said the Pentagon was pleased with the decision. “Providing access to media is always a delicate balancing act because our primary concern is protecting the safety of our people and the success of our mission,” he said.
Shortly after U.S. forces went to war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Flynt’s magazine requested to have a reporter accompany U.S. ground troops. The Pentagon offered access only to such missions as humanitarian food drops and airstrikes but promised to try to expand privileges later. Flynt sued on Nov. 16, 2001.
Last year, Friedman denied Flynt’s request for a preliminary injunction that would give his reporter access while the lawsuit was pending. But Friedman said he might be inclined to find a constitutional right for reporters to cover combat troops if the right case came before him.
At the time of Flynt’s initial request, soldiers were entering Afghanistan only in small numbers on highly specialized missions. As hundreds of Marines and other military forces landed in the country, some restrictions on reporters gradually were lifted.
A small number of reporters from American news organizations joined U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan to witness their assault on suspected al-Qaida and Taliban fighters suspected of regrouping in the country’s eastern region.
The Pentagon now plans to “embed” hundred of reporters with military units on certain missions in case of war with Iraq.
On the Net:
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia: http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/district-court-recent.html