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Tug of war

The tension between reporters and the military will always be with us. It's unavoidable. Both are pursuing their important aims at cross-purposes. The military is concentrating on waging war. Secrecy and deception are often good: They can keep people from getting killed. The media, for its part, is trying to report the war. Secrecy and deception are often bad: They can keep people from being accountable for their actions. For instance, if there were reporters around to take note of Taliban prisoners' being transported in metal packing containers in high heat, the Afghanistan government might have been forced to punch a few more holes in the sides. If reporters were talking regularly to the soldiers in the trenches, maybe some tired grunt might suggest that his bosses block off escape routes rather than blow up mountains. War correspondent Joe Galloway says reporters are welcomed by combat soldiers as "a token that someone in the outside world cares about him and how he lives and does."

Though granting that the relationship between the war machine and the information machine is to some extent adversarial, we are concerned that this administration is taking advantage of the "war on terrorism" to engineer, as Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, put it, "an unprecedented closure of information." Criticisms of the government's restrictions on coverage of battlefields, prisoners and information (see story, page 16) are often dismissed with the explanation that "this is a new kind of war." Well, yes and no. It is for us. For much of the world, it is the same kind of war they have been fighting for decades and reporters have been covering. The absence of a front, troop movements and an easily identifiable opposition force should not insulate our war from public view. That would of course be easier, logistically, for the military, but at a cost in basic freedoms that would hand at least a partial victory to the terrorists.

We saw in the Nixon administration how the shibboleth of "national security" could be used to cloak a multitude of sins. We would hate to see "homeland security" or "war on terrorism" gain a similar stain.

Green light for AMBER

"My life would not be the same without the AMBER plan." That was the testimony of Sharon Timmons before Congress last week. Her daughter had been saved by an AMBER alert after she was abducted. There are at least 30 such stories of children rescued thanks to the partnership of law enforcement and the media. Last week, a bill was introduced to create a national AMBER Alert system, as well as to help fund local efforts. It is an important recognition of the effectiveness of the alert. Time is of the essence in kidnapping cases. The same holds true for passage of this bill. Let's see how fast the wheels can turn for a change.