A Subversive Press? Covert Operations in Iran

Bloggers react to ABC's "covert operations" scoop

Tuesday night, chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross at ABC News reported on a new covert, “non-lethal” program aimed at Iran has received secret approval from President Bush. This story breaks just before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to verify Iran’s fast development in nuclear ability.

The blogosphere is up in arms over the report, with some bloggers agreeing with the program, some frightened of it, and some predictably angry at ABC for disclosing it. Austin Roth of The Moderate Voice is all for the program, writing, “Our government authorizing the CIA to use non-lethal, covert operations to potentially prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and to help stabilize Iraq. What exactly is wrong with THAT?”

Blogs that lean a little further to the left are more worried than Austin Roth about the whole thing. On ThinkProgress.org, the following comment by JPV illustrates a level of despair almost comical in its overreaction: “The US is done folks. Forget about salvaging it, it’s a done deal. I’m in the process of selling my home so I can move to Europe, before it’s too late. I suggest that you guys do the same. This country is finished.”

Perhaps the most intriguing reaction comes from the outcry against Brian Ross and ABC News for their release of this information. While some bloggers have proposed that this leak was an intentional one from the White House, others have called such an action “un-American” and believe that it is sure to derail our solution to the trouble in Iran. Here is a small sample of what people had to say on the ABC News’ The Blotter’s website in response to its release:

Ron Peterson: You should be ashamed of yourselves for broadcasting the report on the CIA covert action against IRAN. The key word here is SECRET. The report should be considered traitorous.

Robert Lipps: Isn’t this type of reporting TREASON!!!!!!! Where’s the responsibility for the good of the country? This is disgusting! What are you thinking???

Michael Octave: Someone should be thrown in jail.

JERRYDRY2005: How extremely irresponsible of you for reporting on this.

These posts ask an essential question: what, exactly, is the press responsible for doing? Where do we draw the line between allowing the American people to know all that their government is doing (Ryan on ABC’s The Blotter: “I commend you for continuing to keep a watchful eye on our government) and becoming an institution that harms the aims the government is trying to achieve, (Margie Davis, same site: “Please stop helping our enemies…Mr. President can’t we stop this reporting???)?

The Confederate Yankee recommends that ABC News be silenced in the wake of this “undermining” release of information, “Should that eventuality come to pass, the Federal Communications Commission should seriously consider suspending or removing ABC’s broadcasting license as a warm up, and move on to more serious legal remedies from there.”

The tension between American union in wartime and the First Amendment ideal of a free press bring back an enduring question: How “free” should the press be?

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Eric Hirsch is a Columbia Journalism Review intern.