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Finally, not enough effort has been put into improving the communication between the media and government outside the heat of a breaking story. The late Jack Nelson, a legendary journalist who reported from Washington for the Los Angeles Times, encouraged a “dialogue” between government officials leading national security and intelligence agencies and media leaders. Such conversations occurred periodically in the months and years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but they should happen regularly.
When the media and government better understand each other’s concerns, they have better conversations on whether an individual story will threaten operational details or sources and methods.
Working more actively to mitigate possible harms from disclosing certain information reinforces the free flow of information and the government’s ability to keep secrets in the name of national security. Stop trying to stop leaks. Instead, do more to ensure any claims of harm are backed up with credible, verifiable explanations. Engage more to mitigate possible harms when controversy arises. We owe the framers of our Constitution our gratitude and our commitment to maintaining this vital bulwark of democracy.
Rick Blum is director of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of media associations committed to promoting transparency in government. The Associated Press is a member.