- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001


The media still struggle to find a proper footing after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It is a complex, emotional issue pitting the First Amendment against patriotism, security issues and personal judgment.
A few journalists have paid a price for their dissent in recent days. A writer for the Oregon-based Daily Courier was fired this week after calling President Bush an "embarrassment," among other things. Editor Dennis Roler apologized to readers, called the offending column irresponsible and inappropriate, then fired the columnist.
And while the publisher of the Texas City Sun in Galveston did not fire his city editor for writing a similar anti-Bush column, he did apologize for it, saying his editor used "poor judgment" and had "erred greatly."
The Los Angeles Times' Howard Rosenberg also issued an apology of sorts for a recent column that criticized Mr. Bush's appearance and behavior. Mr. Rosenberg got hundreds of angry letters, e-mails and death threats; in the aftermath, he conceded he had "second thoughts" about the column's timing, but did not regret writing it.
"My country right or wrong?" he asked. "If that myopic dictum is followed, the U.S. media might as well pack away their megaphones and allow their First Amendment liberties to atrophy."
The University of Missouri's TV station KOMU, meanwhile, irked Republican state lawmakers after the station's news director ordered on-air staff not to wear flags or patriotic ribbons because "broadcasts are not the place for personal statements of support for any cause."
State Rep. Matt Bartle called the edict "censorship for journalists" and added, "I am going to be evaluating far more carefully state funding that goes to the School of Journalism." Two other lawmakers concurred.
Columnists and commentators have taken up the cause, some arguing that press displays of patriotism signal national solidarity, and thus outweigh underlying political implications. Others say that wearing flags compromises objectivity and could endanger journalists who could end up as terrorist targets themselves.
And while amused observers note the sudden patriotic stirrings in the liberal-leaning press, there are still those who remain incensed that White House spokesman Ari Fleischer faulted ABC's "Politically Incorrect" host Bill Maher for inopportune criticism of the American military as "cowardly." The on-air remarks made six days after the attacks were terrible, unfortunate, Mr. Fleischer said.
"There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that. There never is," he said.
Accustomed to regular news leaks of '90s-style scandal coverage, many print and broadcast journalists grapple with a White House that will not compromise classified information, causing some fierce reaction. Universal Press Syndicate columnist Ted Rall, for example, called it the president's new "'cause-I-said-so'-cracy."
And in the search for a workable war coverage vocabulary, judgment varies. Reuters news agency has banned the word "terrorist" for its inflammatory potential. The Associated Press, meanwhile, has retained it. The Sept. 11 attack "meets the criterion," according to managing editor Michael Silverman.

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