Media Prods Govt. For War Access

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By: David Bauder, AP Television Writer

(AP) National media representatives prodded the Bush administration Tuesday to open up its conduct of the war on terrorism to greater scrutiny both on the battlefield and in the White House.

A top ABC News official criticized the administration for its failure to let reporters cover in any meaningful way the conduct of special operations forces in Afghanistan.

“You see every day … the difficulties in finding out what really happened,” said Paul Friedman, ABC News executive vice president, at a seminar Tuesday night on war coverage sponsored by the Museum of Television and Radio.

Col. Jay Parker, director of international relations at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said special operations missions are often so small, physically taxing, and difficult to understand that bringing reporters along wouldn’t make sense. War coverage is further handicapped by the number of reporters who know little about how the military operates, Parker said.

Friedman conceded there are “a certain amount of bozos” covering any war, but said “you cannot use that as an excuse to keep the good people away from covering the war in a way that is going to inform the American people.”

For all of the media complaints about lack of access, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said he’s struck by the amount of public comment that the administration is telling too much.

It’s part of what both sides conceded is a conflict between the press and government as old as the nation itself — and one not likely to change anytime soon.

“The government wants you to see the good stuff and not the bad stuff,” Friedman said. “That’s always the way it is.”

Richard Berke, chief political correspondent for The New York Times, said the administration has kept an airtight lid on internal conflicts about war management, and that this poorly serves the public.

Americans should know now whether the administration is debating going after Saddam Hussein before the president requests time to tell the American people about military action there, Friedman said.

But Fleischer said President Bush benefits from having advisers who can speak freely “without having to worry about a knife in the back.” He doesn’t want to see officials use news media leaks in an attempt to change the course of an argument.

“That serves the nation very, very well,” he said.

He said the administration has sought to provide access to decision-makers after the fact so the public can understand the process, mentioning a recent series in The Washington Post that detailed the White House response to Sept. 11.

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