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Media Coverage of Terrorists

July 11, 1985

How to hit terrorism where it hurts:

Some experts are saying that one aim of the airplane-hostage-snatchers is to get an airing of their grievances on U.S. television. Undoubtedly in the airport scenes and the staged shots of hostages in news conferences, what we are getting is pure theater with a purpose. Perhaps here we have an opportunity to put a crimp in the act the next time it occurs--if we are willing to apply a few restraints on our own freedom of the press. I favor these restraints.

The media might voluntarily do the job by refusing to take pictures at terrorist-staged events and by refusing to distribute or televise films made by terrorists or by foreign producers. And it could be done in legislation banning the production, distribution and public broadcasting of the subject material coming from any source.

Putting brakes of this kind on freedom of the press smacks of war measures, which it is, appropriately so. It is appropriate because today's fanatic terrorists are only part of the problem.

Ever since 1945 we have been in for a long grind of half-peace/half-war, of no real peace/no ultimate war, something new for us. Guerrillas and counterguerrillas, terrorists and counterterrorists, spies and counterspies have been and are going to be a big part of our lives.

The atomic bomb and the faster delivery systems have been giving wars these new shapes. To try to complete the picture, throw in the challenge from the Soviets, plus turbulent independence movements, plus virulent religious rivalries, plus the fact that we cannot possibly back away from the mess although we may want to. And yet our concepts and laws on war are still largely stuck back in pre-1945.

With the new shape of war in mind, as we look at constitutional and statutory provisions touching on war--"declaration of war," "dealing with the enemy," "presidential war powers," and several pertinent sections of the Bill of Rights--we know that changes are due. We should support Congress, the President, and the courts by allowing them the freedom to bring the changes about.


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