Press Vs. America
5. NPR’s foreign editor vows to “smoke out” American troop locations in Afghanistan (2001).
On October 12, 2001, barely a month after 9/11, NPR senior foreign editor Loren Jenkins was quoted in a Chicago Tribune column by Steve Johnson that he wanted his 13 reporters in Afghanistan and the Middle East to find the American troops in a war zone. “The game of reporting is to smoke ‘em out,” he boasted. When asked whether NPR reporters would report the presence of an American commando unit in Pakistan, Jenkins insisted: “You report it. I don’t represent the government. I represent history, information, what happened.”
At NPR, Jenkins’ operating theory about information from the military was that “in one form or another, they never tell you the truth. They’ve been proven wrong too many times.” He proclaimed: “The best reporting is getting to a place and assessing it yourself. Since Vietnam, the Pentagon has made this harder and harder for reporters to do, mostly because they all blame the press for losing the war in Vietnam.”
In part because liberal media reporters were not scandalized, NPR took almost a month before issuing a “clarification,” when vice president Bruce Drake suggested Jenkins was taken out of context: “Loren Jenkins neither believes nor intended to suggest that NPR would engage in reporting that would put in peril the lives of U.S. military personnel. NPR reporters, producers and editors always take into account whether our reporting might put lives in danger, or pose an unacceptable security risk. NPR would never knowingly compromise the security or safety of American military or national security operations by reporting information that would endanger them.”
Not even Johnson, the Tribune columnist, gleaned that impression, as he reported Jenkins “doesn’t exhibit any of the hesitation of some of his news-business colleagues, who stress that they try to factor security issues into their coverage decisions.”
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