A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Ethics In-Brief

By Quill

Reporters keep silent on ‘Deep Throat’

The 30th anniversary of Watergate in June resurrected the interest in the identity of “Deep Throat,” but the two journalists who dealt with the confidential source renewed their three-decade vow of silence, Reuters reported.

Asked about a three-year project by a group of University of Illinois journalism students who had eliminated all but seven Nixon White House aides as possibilities (the students unanimously guessed that Deep Throat was commentator Pat Buchanan), Washington Post writer Bob Woodward said: “You’re going to get a kind of deep silence from us on this subject. It’s about keeping our word for 30 years.”

Woodward said their source’s identity would be revealed after his death or when the source releases him and former colleague Carl Bernstein from their confidentiality pledge. The two journalists appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on June 16.

As young reporters, Woodward and Bernstein uncovered the breadth of the Watergate crimes and cover-up that led to President Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation.

Meanwhile, in an e-book published on Salon.com, former White House Counsel John Dean says he believes the source may be one of four people: Pat Buchanan, the “Crossfire” veteran and three-time presidential candidate; former Nixon speechwriter Ray Price; Nixon assistant Steve Bull; or, ex-press secretary Ron Ziegler, even though Ziegler attacked The Washington Post’s reporting on a “third-rate burglary.”

“It’s really the result of about 30 years of on-and-off searching, and I’ve got it down to a thimbleful,” Dean said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on June 16.

Dean says it would be “unfair” to finger one of his four suspects because he’s still “parsing the clues,” but he plans to continue the detective work, The Washington Post reported.

Phoenix, CBS run Pearl death video

The Phoenix, an alternative weekly newspaper in Boston, printed two 2-inch photographs from slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s execution video in the June 6 edition, and the paper’s Web site provided a link to the graphic video as well. In May, CBS generated controversy with a decision to broadcast nongraphic excerpts of the video depicting Pearl’s murder.

One of the photos in The Phoenix shows Pearl’s severed head juxtaposed with suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda members being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Publisher Stephen Mindich said that he did not think the photos were offensive and suggested that Pearl would have supported using them because he died trying to explain terrorism.

The photos also were accompanied by an editorial in The Phoenix that defended linking to the video from its Web site, The Associated Press reported.

The video, which runs slightly longer than three minutes, features the captive Pearl confessing his Jewish roots and denouncing American foreign policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Although the footage becomes unclear and choppy, it concludes with what certainly appear to be disturbing scenes of Pearl’s murder, The Boston Globe said.

Theodore Hickman Jr., president of the Virginia-based hosting company, said he decided to post the video ‘’because we wanted to say to our own customers that we’re advocates of the First Amendment.’’

According to a Washington Post story on CBS’ decision, Jim Murphy, executive producer of the “CBS Evening News,” said that he and anchor Dan Rather debated right up until the May 14 air time whether to broadcast part of the video of Pearl’s murder.

As word of CBS’ plan to air the segment got out, Pearl’s family immediately denounced the network’s decision. Despite appeals to CBS from Justice and State department officials, the Rather broadcast aired a brief portion of the video – though not the murder itself.

“We worked very hard to present it in a responsible way,” Murphy said.

Rather said the story was aired because CBS believes it is important for Americans to see the impact of the propaganda war being waged against the United States. Graphic scenes were not aired for taste reasons and out of respect for Pearl’s family, he said in an on-air explanation.

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said of CBS’s decision: “There is nothing inherently wrong, morally or journalistically, in airing some portion of that tape to allow people to know what you are talking about. … On its face, it makes no sense to say the video should be off limits, even if it hurts the family.”

Pearl disappeared from Karachi, Pakistan, on Jan. 23 while working on a story about Islamic militants. The tape was delivered to U.S. officials on Feb. 21, and a portion was played in the trial of four Islamic militants charged with his death, the AP reported.

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