I love investigative reporting, and I love reading about CIA operations, so when Brian Ross and his investigative team at ABC broke the story that President Bush had authorized a covert destabilization operation against the Iranian government, I was all ears. Brian Ross is one of the best investigative journalists in the country, and has broken many stories of great magnitude in the past. However, the sensitive nature of this news piece once again brought to the surface the question of journalistic responsibility when making news. This CIA operation is of course classified and not meant for the public, or Iran, to know. The question is:
Is there some information that journalists should not report because of potential danger or backlash?
I see both sides of this debate. On the one-hand, as an investigative journalist, to publish a story exposing corruption or secret plans or cover-ups is the top of the mountain – after all, this is the goal of the profession. Ross did not break any laws; he only reported what his sources were willing to pass on to him. Shouldn’t the leakers ultimately be responsible for this, not the journalist?
On the other hand, should value for nation or fellow citizens sometimes trump personal accolades and career objectives? If so, where do you draw the line? There was backlash after the abuses at Abu-Ghraid prison in Iraq, should that not have been reported? The New York Times famously broke the story on the NSA wire-tapping program, which no doubt tipped off the terrorists regarding phone communications, should that have been kept under wraps? Obviously this story did not have to be reported, and we can probably assume that many other stories dealing with sensitive information go unprinted by other news agencies.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that if there’s super-sensitive information that the public should never hear, you’d better tell as few people as possible and threaten Jack Bauer-like techniques towards everyone if any leaks occur. Of course if you know Jack, you know he’ll do “whatever it takes”.