With the war in Afghanistan officially underway, the predicted clamp-down
on media coverage also has begun.
On Wednesday morning, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice held a conference call with news executives asking them to "use their best judgement," according to White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer, before airing pre-recorded video statements from Osama bin Laden or any Taliban spokesman.
"At best it's propaganda," Fleischer said, "and at worst it's issuing coded orders to operatives."
The White House has no information concluding that bin
Laden, the Taliban or al-Qaeda thus far has used statements to communicate with
terrorist cells, but the practice of inserting coded messages into mass media
has been used frequently by many countries, including the U.S.
The White House was particularly concerned about a videotaped statement
issued Tuesday by al-Qaeda Spokesman Suleiman Abu-Ghaith, who incited Muslims to
take up arms against U.S. interests across the world.
Fleischer said the White House is not planning to censor what news organizations can air, but is merely making a request that they be careful.
According to network sources, Rice implored news organizations to screen pre-recorded footage before airing it live. "They were not telling and not asking the networks to do anything, just to be aware of their concerns that videos could contain coded messages or be inflammatory," said one network executive.
Shortly after Rice's call to the networks Wednesday
morning, CNN released a statement that it will review all Al Qaeda video before
airing it "avoid airing any material that we believe would directly facilitate
any terrorists acts.'
Aaron Brown said on-air that CNN won't replay full statements from suspected terrorists anymore, but will instead show video and paraphrase the audio.
Meanwhile, President Bush several times since Sunday has
made very clear that he is angry with members of Congress for leaking to the
press information they have learned after being briefed by Cabinet-level
officials or law enforcement officers.
Specifically, Bush was upset about a story in the Washington Post by Bob Woodward and Susan Schmidt that ran last Friday, saying the intelligence community is "100% certain" another terrorist attack will occur on American soil.
Over the weekend, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman
of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, repeated those remarks on news
President Bush has said over the past few days that "these are very serious matters, and they should be treated seriously," directing his comments toward members of Congress.
In Tuesday's press briefing, Fleischer said the
President had sent a memo to Cabinet-level officials, asking them to give
Congress information on a need-to-know basis.
"This administration will continue to work to inform the leadership of the Congress about the course of and important developments in our military, intelligence and law enforcement operations. At the same time, we have an obligation to protect military operational security, intelligence sources and methods, and sensitive law enforcement investigations," Fleischer said, reading from the memo.
In many instances, the White House, the Department of Defense, and the intelligence agencies are required to brief the Congressional committees that govern their activities, particularly if these agencies need Congress to approve their funding, so it will be difficult for the administration to keep much information to itself
- Paige Albiniak and Allison Romano