Manchester & The U.S. Media’s Dangerous Double Standard

Damaging. Irresponsible. Hypocritical. Opportunistic.  There are plenty of words to describe the U.S. media’s rush to disclose sensitive information leaked by U.S. officials concerning Britain’s investigation into the Manchester terrorist attack; a list that includes the bomber’s name and forensic photographs of the crime scene.

The British security services are fuming, and rightly so. The minutes, hours and days immediately following a terrorist incident are crucial for apprehending members of the terrorist network before they flee the country and for thwarting attacks which may be imminent.  Leaking and publishing details of an investigation during this narrow window undermines those efforts and jeopardizes public safety.

It’s up to the Trump administration to plug the leaks in America’s intelligence community. But the U.S. media, including its newspaper of record, The New York Times, has, in my view, placed profits over public service. In its scramble to beat the competition, boost circulation and garner more clicks, the U.S. media has compromised the integrity and the mission of the Fourth Estate.

The New York Times defended its decision to publish photographs of bomb parts found at the scene of the Manchester attack, writing, “Our mission is to cover news and inform our readers. We have strict guidelines on how and in what ways we cover sensitive stories.’

The problem is, the NYT’s does not apply the same standard when the life of one of its journalists is on the line.

When a journalist working for The New York Times is kidnapped overseas, the paper does not race to publish the story. It suppresses it. And for good reason. Publishing details of the abduction could endanger the life of the journalist and undermine efforts to secure their release. Furthermore, the NYT’s asks other news organizations to keep quiet.  As Columbia Journalism Review noted, ‘such news blackouts have become a well-established tradition among American media.’

I’m fine with suppressing stories to protect the lives of journalists.  Now it’s time for the U.S. media to extend the same courtesy to the public it professes to serve.