Truth or Treason? The Difficult Decision Journalists Must Make

In, Whistleblowers, Leaks and the Media, by Paul Rosenzweig, the discussion of leaks and the Espionage Act made me think more in depth about the act of leaking information and the threat as well as the potential that it creates for journalists. While it is true that sometimes those who hold power in our government are attempting to leak information to dangerous people in other countries to sabotage and damage the United States, the majority of leaks are done to expose people in power and unjust actions/situations that are occurring in our country. I do believe that journalists have a right to “leak” and disseminate this information to the public, but I also agree that on occasion this is not always the right choice.

During chapter thirteen, The Consequences of Leaks: The Erosion of Security, Rhodes discusses the costs of leaking information. There are negative effects such as interrupting foreign policy, revealing U.S. military security patterns to enemies, and risking the lives of civil servants and their families. Based off of these effects the Pentagon Papers seem to have been a leak that was damaging considering that it was about the Vietnam war, right? I think that basing our opinions off of these risks to determine whether a leak is harmful is narrow minded. A leak must be considered in the larger scope of things and especially in the case of the Pentagon Papers, we were not at war during the time so it technically wasn’t a threat, even though it did reveal the United States habits. I can see how this situation in particular can be up for discussion.

I think that journalists carry  a heavy weight on their shoulders in deciding whether something is harmful or if it is necessary information the public should be aware of, but ultimately it is their choice and sometimes they are considered the hero, but sometimes they’re damaging lives and the security of our nation. It is the job of a journalist to make this difficult choice.

One thought on “Truth or Treason? The Difficult Decision Journalists Must Make

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  1. I think you are correct to look at a broader understanding of harm and recognize that leaks to a journalist to expose corruption is fundamentally different than leaking to a foreign government. Still, although the Pentagon Papers did not reveal ongoing military strategy, the US was still actively engaged in combat at the time of their publication. The publication of the papers further eroded support for the war and helped bring the war to an end. Many, including Nixon, blamed the press (and Ellsberg) for losing Vietnam. I am not sure the war was ever “winnable” but I do believe that the publication of the Pentagon papers affected American support and led to our eventual departure from active combat. I think Ellsberg was right to leak the information. I think allowing our soldiers to kill and be killed in what we knew to be a losing battle would have been immoral. But there were consequences- I just happen to like them.


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