The US media was recovering only slowly from the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Center. CBS TV anchorman Dan Rather warned in May 2002 of the dangers of self-censorship in the wake of the attacks and said the new dominance of patriotism had in effect prevented journalists from criticising President Bush’s policies.
Cartoonist Steve Benson, of the Arizona Republic, deplored the censorship of some of his work after complaints from readers. He said he had received death threats and been accused of being a "traitor." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer criticised a humorous writer and said Americans "need to watch what they say."
The Bush administration was tempted to try to control the news. In February, it was reported that a section of the Defence Department had suggested planting disinformation in the foreign media to prevent the government’s "war against terrorism" being seen by foreigners as a war against Islam. But the fact this was exposed by the media itself showed the robustness of press freedom in the US. This did not reduce the government’s efforts to control its image. New government-funded TV and radio broadcasts were beamed to the Middle East, Asia and Africa to give the impression of a government that respected Muslims.
At the US naval base at Guantanamo, in Cuba, where suspected members of Al-Qaeda and their Taliban allies were being held, military officials curbed the movements of journalists. At the beginning of the year, photos of prisoners there being treated in a degrading manner were printed around the world. Journalists at the base said restrictions were stepped up during the year. One said soldiers even escorted him to the toilet.
Doubts also grew about the justification for detaining at the base a cameraman from the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera. As with the other prisoners, the authorities refused to say exactly why he was being held.
The post 11 September nervousness of the security forces in the US itself continued throughout the year. Two journalists were arrested near guarded buildings or sites. Another was detained at the State Department and questioned about who had given him a copy of a restricted foreign policy document.
At least five challenges to the confidentiality of journalistic sources were made during the year. Three clearly showed how much of an obstacle this principle was in relations between the media and legal authorities.
Freelance journalist Vanessa Leggett was imprisoned for nearly six months for contempt after refusing to hand over notes and recordings to a court. Such tensions also showed in court bans on publishing material. Three Philadelphia Enquirer journalists were given suspended prison sentences, with an alternative of doing community service, for defying a judge’s ban on publishing the name of a juror they said did not reside in the state where a trial was being held and was therefore serving illegally. In another case, two journalists were put on probation.
New information on a journalist killed before 2002
The Washington Times reported on 25 February 2002 that the FBI had identified the sender of anthrax-countermined letters that had caused the death in 2001 of photographer Robert Stevens, of the tabloid paper The Sun, and four other people. It said the culprit, who it did not name, was a former scientist at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Stevens died on 5 October 2001 from the pulmonary form of anthrax contracted from powder contained in a letter sent to the newspaper.
A journalist imprisoned
Freelance journalist Vanessa Leggett was released on 4 January 2002 after 168 days in prison for contempt after refusing in July 2001 to disclose to a federal court in Texas the content of an interview she had had with the main suspect in a crime. Her release was due to the expiry of the court’s order in connection with the contempt and not as a result of having served a jail sentence. She was therefore liable to be rearrested and questioned again if the investigation into the crime reopened. She appealed to the federal supreme court, saying that her rights to protection under the first and fifth amendments to the federal constitution concerning freedom of expression and self-incrimination were violated. The court rejected the case on 15 April.
Another journalist was held throughout 2002 but it was not possible by the end of the year to say whether this was because of his work.
He was Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese assistant cameraman for the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera, which disclosed on 16September that he had been arrested by Pakistani police on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border on 15 December 2001. He had worked for the station since October 2001 and been sent to Pakistan to cover the US military operation in Afghanistan.
Al-Jazeera said his detention might be linked with the fact that he had lost his passport in 2000 and that it may have been misused by unknown people. The station said it had had no news of him until April 2002, when his wife received a letter from him through the International Red Cross saying he was being held at the US naval base at Guantanamo (Cuba). Al-Jazeera was unable to find out through diplomatic channels why he was being held or what he had been charged with, despite promises by US officials. At the end of the year, the US authorities refused to grant a visa for his lawyer to go to the United States to prepare his defence.
20 journalists arrested
New York Times photographer Edward Keating was briefly arrested at the site of the World Trade Center on 11 January 2002 while taking pictures of firemen extracting the remains of victims of the 11 September attacks. He had a false permit and risked prosecution for illegally entering a restricted area.
Gregg Gursky, a Fox News TV cameraman, was arrested in front of the Pentagon on 18 March while filming a police arrest. Pentagon security officials handcuffed him, confiscated his camera and accused him of filming in a restricted area. Fox News said he had the necessary permits.
Joel Mowbray, of the weekly National Review, was arrested on 12 July by security officials at the State Department and questioned for half an hour about how he got hold of a confidential diplomatic cable sent by the US embassy in Saudi Arabia and about whose contents he had just asked State Department spokesman Richard Boucher at a press conference. He refused to say. The State Department said he had not been "arrested" but simply "detained."
Seventeen journalists and journalism students, working for the agencies Magnum Photo, United Press International (UPI), the washngtonpost.com Internet website and The Independent Media Center, were arrested in Washington on 27 September while they were covering demonstrations against a meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. They were accused of refusing to obey police orders. Some were held for 24 hours.
A journalist threatened
Anita Busch, of the Los Angeles Times, found a threatening note on the seat of her car on 17 October 2002. She had been investigating since June a suspected attempt to extort money from actor Steven Seagal. The author of the note was soon arrested. At the end of August, one of her colleagues working on the same story had been threatened with a gun.
Pressure and obstruction
Spozhmai Maiwandi, head of the Pashtu language service at the government-funded radio the Voice of America (VOA), was transferred in late October 2001 to other work at the station that news director André de Nesnera admitted was "a useless job." He said the switch had been due to outside pressure. Maiwandi said it was because she had got an interview the previous month with Afghanistan’s Taliban Mullah Mohammed Omar that the US State Department had tried to prevent being broadcast, saying that "the Voice of America is not the voice of Mullah Omar."
Journalists from several media, including CNN and CBS TV, the Associated Press news agency and The Army Times, were given permission on 10 January 2002 to photograph and film the departure from Kabul of 20 prisoners bound for the US naval base at Guantanamo (Cuba). After the prisoners had left, the journalists were told they could not use their pictures. A Pentagon spokesman said they would violate international treaties because they were degrading for the prisoners. The media outlets ignored the ban.
The New York Times reported on 19 February that the US Defense Department’s Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) had proposed planting disinformation in the foreign media in an effort to prevent the US war against terrorism from being seen as a war against Islam. The outcry set off by this revelation led White House spokesman Ari Fleischer to quickly say President Bush knew nothing about the project. The OSI was subsequently closed down.
A federal judge in Virginia on 19 March reversed his decision requiring Dolia Estévez, Washington correspondent of the Mexican daily El Financiero, to supply documents to the court that she had obtained during an investigation in 1999 of suspected links between the Mexican Hank family, owners of the Laredo National Bank, and drug trafficking. The judge said he recognised the journalist’s right not to reveal her sources.
At the end of April, the Pentagon banned the media for supposed security reasons from covering the transfer of prisoners arrested in Afghanistan from Camp X-Ray to the Camp Delta prison, both at the US naval base at Guantanamo (Cuba). Earlier press coverage of the building of the Camp Delta had been restricted.
On 2 May, the Los Angeles offices of the Metropolitan News group, publishers of the Metropolitan News-Enterprise and the daily Los Angeles Bulletin, were evacuated and closed by prosecutors, who threatened to search them as part of a corruption investigation. They were looking for details of the source of an advert that appeared in the Los Angeles Bulletin in February. Co-publisher Roger Grace filed a complaint on 16 December, saying the raid was unjustified because he had earlier offered the relevant documents to the authorities if they told him the name of the advertiser.
Four Philadelphia Enquirer reporters - George Anastasia, Dwight Ott, Emilie Lounsberry and Joseph Gambardello - were each fined $1,000 on 20 June for contempt of court by Judge Theodore Z. Davis for publishing the name of a juror in a New Jersey murder case despite his ban on identifying jurors or contacting or trying to interview them. Anastasia, Ott and Lounsberry were also given six-month suspended jail sentences with an alternative of doing several days of community service. The paper had reported that, contrary to legal requirements, one of the jurors probably did not live in New Jersey at the time of the trial.
Reporter Chris Dumond, of the Virginia daily the Bristol Herald Courier, was threatened with 30 days in prison and a $5,000 fine for contempt of court by Judge Pamela Sargent on 22 July for refusing to say who had given him a copy of an arrest warrant issued in a terrorism case. The source eventually confessed and the journalist was not punished.
The room occupied by a team from the Italian TV station RAI 1 at the Guantanamo US naval base was searched on 11 September by the military authorities who suspected they had filmed in an unauthorised place.
Two special correspondents at the base said journalists there were increasingly restricted in their activities. Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg said they were permanently escorted and their relations with base personnel, including civilians, were monitored. Associated Press reporter Paisley Dodds said access to the hospital and the possibility of seeing the prisoners became more difficult during the year and that photographs had been almost totally banned, officially for "operational security" reasons.
Chris Byron, of the business magazine Red Herring, was told on 16 October by the AT & T phone company that two strangers pretending to be him and his wife had deceived a company official into giving them a list of calls he had made in July while he was investigating a Canadian software company. The firm had sued the magazine for libel after an article about the investigation appeared in August. One of Byron’s sources said his phone records had also been fraudulently obtained in the same way. The source was later subpoenaed as a witness in the case.
David Carson (publisher) and Ed Powers (editor), of the Kansas monthly The New Observer, were fined $3,500 each on 27 November and put on probation for a year after being found guilty on 17 July of libelling Carol Marinovich, mayor of Kansas City (officially Wyandotte County), and her husband Ernest Johnson, the Wyandotte county district judge, by saying in a November 2000 article they did not live in the county as required by law.