Press Says America Bored By War News

By: Rich Vosepka, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Reporters aren’t getting access to the information they need to tell the whole story on U.S. foreign policy news, a panel of journalists said on Wednesday.

But when it comes to the war in Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf War, or any number of overseas conflicts, many people don’t care, according to members of a panel on government censorship during wartime.

“People say we are giving them too much information on the war, how it’s being conducted. These are the people I’m hearing from,” Shinika Sykes, a reader advocate for The Salt Lake Tribune, said during a meeting this week of the Organization of News Ombudsmen.

Jeannie Johnson, a former State Department official who teaches political science at Utah State University, said the media will remain in the dark on certain foreign policy matters unless the public demands to know more. “The penchant for happy ignorance really can’t be exaggerated,” she said.

Michael Getler, ombudsman for The Washington Post, said the level of demand should not be a journalist’s guide. “It’s not a popularity contest. That’s not our role here,” Getler said.

He added that censorship today involves the delayed release of information and blocked access to the scene of a conflict rather than words cut out of a story.

Yet Johnson pointed out even when given unfettered access during the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, reporters dropped the ball. “They needed a clear villain, a clear victim, and a hero,” she said.

Johnson, who was helping the United States implement a peace agreement in the region, said oversimplification made it difficult to deal with the Serbs and Muslims. “The problem for us was the journalists were coming in and crafting our perimeters … boxing us into a corner that was tough to get out of,” she said. “I want you to play your adversarial role, but the thing that concerns me was that they didn’t do that in the Balkans.”

Utah State University journalism professor Michael Sweeney said reporting the news is a mix of public demand and civic duty. “Part of it is what they want to know. Part of it is what they need to know — and it’s not going to taste very good going down,” he said.

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