Journalists Face the Challenges of Wartime Ethics: Journalists Grapple With Conflicts of Interest

By Elaine Hargrove-Simon, Silha Fellow and Bulletin Editor

Journalist fired for participating in war protest

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Henry Norr was arrested the day
after the war began, on March 20, 2003, at a war protest in San Francisco.
He was one of approximately 1,400 protesters at the event. Along with
his wife and daughter, Norr was charged with being a pedestrian in the
road and blocking traffic, according to the Boston Globe.

When Norr filled out his timecard the following day, he marked his time off from work on March 20 as a "sick day." "I did so because I was sick - heartsick over the beginning of the war, nauseated by the lies and the arrogance and the stupidity that led to it, and deeply depressed by the death and destruction it would bring," Norr wrote in a letter to Jim Romenesko's Web site at Poynter.org. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Norr said, "If they had a column on the time card for 'jail day,' I would
have put that." Norr also stated that his manager signed his time card, apparently without questioning it. According to the New York Times, Norr had also organized peace marches during the Vietnam war before he became a journalist, and had initially filed a request in March asking for a month's leave in order to protest the war full time. Norr has said that his request went unanswered.

The San Francisco Chronicle pulled Norr's next technology column and, according to the Associated Press, the Chronicle suspended Norr on March 26, then fired him on April 21.

The Associated Press reported that on April 2, the newspaper's editors sent an e-mail to its staff, saying "our responsibility as journalists can only be met by a strict prohibition against any newsroom staffer participating in any public political activity related to the war."

On April 3, the San Francisco Chronicle's readers' representative Dick Rogers wrote in a column that "the situation [with Norr] illustrates a larger issue - the balancing act between a journalist's desire to be politically active and the paper's need to establish and hold the public's trust." Saying that it "was the advocacy, not the position," Rogers continued, "If you become a political advocate and then try to write even-handedly
about your passion, will readers think you and your paper are fair?" He also stated that on April 2, the newspaper had "strengthened its policy to prohibit public political activity related to the war."

According to the Boston Globe, Phil Bronstein, editor of the Chronicle, cited the "falsification" on the timecard and Norr's
"improper claim for paid sick leave" as grounds for dismissal in Norr's termination letter. "Your personal political activities are no excuse to permit a false claim."

Bronstein continued, "Even if you had not claimed a paid workday, we would not permit you to return to work in the Chronicle newsroom. To do so would irreparably compromise our journalistic standards and the expectations we have for everyone in the newsroom."

Sheryl McCarthy, writing for Newsday on April 28, likened Norr's asking for a sick day but going to a war protest as running into one's boss at the beach after saying he had a doctor's appointment. "Getting arrested along with 1,400 others called attention to his newspaper and cast doubt on its objectivity," she wrote. "I share Norr's convictions,
but his judgment was off, and it cost him his job. I can't blame the Chronicle
for that," she concluded.

According to the Boston Globe, the local newspaper union and the Northern California Media Workers Guild have filed grievances against the San Francisco Chronicle for Norr's suspension and termination, as well as the changes to the newspaper's ethics policy.

Journalists and souvenirs of war

CNN.com reported on April 23 that several American journalists were caught trying to smuggle stolen pieces of art and other Iraqi artifacts into the United States. Benjamin J. Johnson, a satellite truck engineer with Fox News, and Jules Crittenden, a reporter with the Boston Herald, and four others who were not identified, were reportedly found carrying souvenirs of war. Johnson and the unidentified journalists entered the
country at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C.; Crittenden returned via Logan International Airport in Boston.

On April 17, Johnson had tried to enter the country with a large cardboard box containing twelve paintings from one of the palaces of Uday Hussein, one of Saddam Hussein's sons. The paintings depicted Saddam and Uday, according to the Associated Press. Johnson also had 40 Iraqi Monetary Bonds and a visitor's badge from the U.S. embassy in Kuwait. Johnson initially told customs agents that the paintings had been given to him by "people on the streets of Iraq," but then confessed that he himself had take some
of the paintings from various presidential palaces, and bartered with a U.S. soldier for two others. He said he planned to give one to his employer and keep the others for decoration.

According to the New York Times, Johnson was charged on April 22 with smuggling items into the United States and for making false statements. Criminal charges were filed against him in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Web site, SFGate.com.

Fox fired Johnson when they "learned that he had admitted to the acts described by the Customs Department," according to a report on CNN.com's Web site. Johnson had worked for the network for six years.

Jules Crittenden, who had been embedded with the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division, had been writing not only for the Boston Herald, but also for the Poynter Institute.

(In one of his Poynter pieces, "Embedded Journal: 'I Went Over to the Dark Side,'" Crittenden recounted an episode when, while traveling with U.S. forces, he pointed out the location of Iraqi soldiers so that American forces could fire on them. Three Iraqi soldiers lost their lives in the episode. Crittenden wrote, "Now that I have assisted in the deaths of three human beings in the war I was sent to cover, I'm sure there are some people who will question my ethics, my objectivity, etc. I'll keep the argument short. Screw them, they weren't there. But they are welcome to join me next time if they care to test their professionalism.")

According to the Boston Globe, Johnson tipped off custom officials to the fact that Crittenden would be returning to the United States with several items. When Crittenden arrived at Logan Airport, he declared to customs officials that he had a painting and several ornamental items. According to a story posted on the Boston Globe's Web site, officials took the five-foot painting as well as the other items. All items will be returned to Iraq. However, officials have said Crittenden will not be prosecuted because the artwork has been valued at less than $15,000. Boston Herald editor Andrew Costello said, "What he had were clearly souvenirs and he declared them," the Boston Globe reported. The Boston Globe also noted that Crittenden would not be fired.

Poynter Online editor Bill Mitchell issued a statement on Poynter.org in which he wrote, "In agreeing to our request that he write the Embedded Journal for Poynter Online, Jules knew he was signing up for plenty of scrutiny. I haven't talked with him about what he brought back from Iraq, but it's pretty clear he should have left that stuff behind in Baghdad."

In his article posted at Poynter.org, "Embedded Journalist Returns Home, Searched by Customs," Crittenden himself wrote, "I understand and share the world's concern about the disappearance of legitimate Iraqi national treasures that are in fact treasures of human civilization. I also share the concerns about the regrettable failure of some soldiers to resist temptation when faced with the riches of a lifetime. However, those are
matters separate from the time-honored tradition among soldiers of bringing home reminders of some of the most intense experiences of their lives. There was no exception to that historic practice in this war until we began arriving home." Crittenden also said that federal agents told him that all reporters and soldiers would be subjected to similar searches.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Bush administration is taking a tough stance on the topic of war souvenirs. Michael J. Garcia, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement was quoted as saying "These items are not souvenirs or 'war trophies,' but stolen goods that belong to the people of Iraq." But the article went on to question such policies, saying that in comparison to the priceless artifacts stolen from the Iraq Museum, most of the items brought back by soldiers and journalists have little value.

Nevertheless, Bryan Whitman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, said that the embedding policy regarding journalists traveling with U.S. forces should have taken the topic of war souvenirs into consideration. "I guess we'll have to put that in for future agreements: 'When we win the war, you are not allowed to loot,'" he told the Los Angeles Times.

In another incident, a security officer at Amman's Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan, identified by the Seattle Times as Sgt. Ali Sirhan, was killed when he found a hand grenade in the baggage of Japanese journalist Hiroki Gomi. The New York Post reported that Gomi works for the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper. Gomi said he did not know the grenade was in his bag. Gomi and three others were injured in the incident.

The Associated Press reported that a Jordanian court sentenced Gomi to one and a half years in prison, convicting him of negligence resulting in the death of the security officer and of accidentally damaging property at the airport. He was acquitted of illegal possession of an explosive device because there was no evidence that he intended harm. Yoshiaki Ito, deputy managing editor of Mainichi Shimbun, was quoted as saying that the trial was fair. However, he also stated that there are plans to petition Jordan's King Abdullah II for a special amnesty on Gomi's behalf.

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on November 9, 2009 11:02 AM.

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