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Ethics in America II

War Stories: National Security & the News

Four years ago, a coalition led by American forces invaded the Central Asian nation of Khaoistan, where warlords had destroyed the central government and were supporting major terrorist activities. Today, the process of rebuilding the nation and fighting off an insurgency continues, covered by a group of journalists based in the capital city.

One of the events journalists in Khaoistan had a chance to cover was the reopening of Blubek Sewage-Treatment Plant Number One, where coalition forces and American contractors made 22 million dollars in repairs. Unfortunately, two weeks later, the sewage-treatment plant is in the news again—when it blows up. It seems insurgents planted two explosive devices at the plant. How much coverage will the bad news of the explosion get, compared to the good news of the reopening two weeks earlier? Is there any validity to the claim that progress in Khaoistan is underreported?

Soon after the treatment plant explosions, a journalist becomes “embedded” with an army unit in Khaoistan. The unit is going on a raid of a house where an insurgency leader is based. On the way to the operation, the embedded journalist sees another unit that has been in battle. Dead American soldiers are in body bags. Should the journalist photograph this image of war? Why or why not?

At the operation itself, the journalist videotapes a disturbing incident: an inexperienced American soldier shoots and kills a wounded, unarmed Khaoistani prisoner he had been assigned to guard. No one else has this video. What should the journalist and his editors back home do with it?

Meanwhile, back in the United States, a newspaper journalist covering the Electronic Intelligence Agency is approached by someone at that agency who claims to have documents proving that the agency has been acting illegally. But the source will not share the information without a promise of complete confidentiality. Should the journalist make that promise?

After the journalist promises confidentiality, she obtains documents showing that the EIA has been conducting a domestic spying operation, apparently in violation of the agency’s charter. Further research confirms the existence of this operation. Should the newspaper run the story, even if the government says that revealing the operation would hamper the war on terror?

Eventually, the story is published. The government begins an investigation into the leak of classified information, and demands that the journalist reveal her source. Will the journalist go to jail to protect the source’s confidentiality?


Richard Kilberg

Dominique Lasseur

Joan Greco

Ruth Friendly

Barbara Margolis

Mark Ganguzza

Kerry Soloway

Gerald Jonas

Joey David
Jason Steneck

Ann Yoo

H. Peet Foster

Dan McKenrick

Bob Aldridge

Lisa H. Newton, Ph.D.

Rachel Ward

Tom Bettag
Lucy Dalglish
James Fogel
Josh Friedman
John Landman
Richard Mark
John D. Mason
Geneva Overholser
Judge Richard Posner
Dana Priest
Dan Proctor
Major Elizabeth L. Robbins
Colleen Rowley
Nadine Strossen
Andie Tucher

Meet the Participants

Jake Tapper (Moderator)
Floyd Abrams
Steven A. Boylan
Max Cleland
Jack Cloonan 
Chris Danbeck
Karen DeYoungJohn Donvan
Stephen F. Hayes
James F. Hoge Jr. 
Bruce Lawlor
Frank Sesno
Victoria Toensing
Michael Yon


Jake Tapper Jake Tapper
Senior National Correspondent ABC News
Jake Tapper is an ABC News correspondent based in the network’s Washington, D.C., bureau. He contributes regularly to Good Morning AmericaNightlineWorld News Tonight, and This Week with George Stephanopoulos, as well as ABC News’s digital properties, including ABC News Now and Since joining ABC News in July 2003, Tapper has reported on a wide range of stories, including the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the investigation into the disclosure of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity, and the debate over Terri Schiavo. During the 2004 presidential election, Tapper reported on charges by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against Senator John Kerry and also manned the fact-check desk during ABC News’s debate and election coverage. He also reported on the California gubernatorial recall and the election of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Tapper frequently reports on politics, faith in America, and the culture wars.

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Floyd Abrams Floyd Abrams
Constitutional Attorney
Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP
Visiting Professor
Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
Floyd Abrams is a New York attorney specializing in freedom of speech and press issues. He is a partner in the law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel, and has been called “the most significant First Amendment lawyer of our age.” He is also a visiting professor of First Amendment law at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and the author of Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment. Mr. Abrams has argued frequently in the Supreme Court. He was cocounsel to the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case and has represented ABC, NBC, CBS, Timemagazine, Business Week, the Nation, the Reader’s Digest, and many others. He was chairman of the Committee on Freedom of Speech and of the Press of the Individual Rights Section of the American Bar Association, as well as of the Committee on Freedom of Expression of the Litigation Section of the American Bar Association.

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Steven A. Boylan Steven A. Boylan
U.S. Military in Iraq, 2004–2005
Director, Press Information Center
Iraq, 2004–2005
Lieutenant Colonel Steven A. Boylan assumed duties as the chief of strategic communication at the Combined Arms Center in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in January of 2006. Before taking up these duties, he was director of the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) from August 2004 to December 2005 and served as the day-to-day spokesperson for the Multinational Force in Iraq. As director, Lt. Col. Boylan led the daily functions and operations of the coalition media operations and supervised 67 U.S military and Iraqi personnel, which included the Command Information, the Media and Press Desk Operations, and the American Forces Network–Iraq. He also supervised training for the Iraqi ministries and military public-affairs specialists. As the 8th U.S. Army public affairs officer from August 2002 to July 2004, he was the spokesperson for 37,000 soldiers, the Department of the Army civilians, and family members.

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Max Cleland Max Cleland
Former Senator, Georgia (D)
Max Cleland was a Democratic senator of Georgia for six years. He served in the Vietnam War where he was severely wounded, losing both legs and one arm. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for valorous action in combat. He was appointed as the youngest administrator of the United States Veterans Administration by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. While in the position, he instituted the revolutionary Vets Center program that, for the first time, offered psychological counseling to combat veterans to treat the emotional wounds of war. He then became the Georgia secretary of state from 1982 to 1996. In 2002, Cleland was appointed to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States to report findings and make recommendations to prevent terrorist attacks. More recently he has served as a distinguished adjunct professor to American University’s Washington Semester Program and as a fellow in the American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. He has earned respect for his work in health care, bioterrorism preparedness, and homeland security. He is now on the board of directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

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Jack Cloonan Jack Cloonan 
Former FBI Special Agent
Counter Terrorism Division
Jack Cloonan is a 25-year veteran of the FBI and an internationally respected security expert. Mr. Cloonan has extensive strategic knowledge and experience in the areas of investigation, crisis management, and intelligence analysis. Since retiring from the FBI, where he received commendations and awards for counterterrorism and investigations, Cloonan has served as a counterterrorism consultant and commentator for ABC News. He also has held positions as security specialist for the Exxon Corporation and, most recently, as a managing director for L. F. Stephens, where he led investigations for individuals and corporate clients in areas of due diligence, risk assessment, internal theft, global risk, and employee integrity. Mr. Cloonan is currently the president of Clayton Consultants, a global-risk and crisis-management firm that assists victims of kidnapping around the world.

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Chris Danbeck Chris Danbeck
2d Armored Cavalry Regiment
Baghdad, 2003–2004
Captain Chris Danbeck is currently enrolled in the Master’s of International Affairs program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Upon completion of this program in 2007, he will serve as professor of international relations at West Point. Capt. Danbeck graduated from Boston University in 1997 and was commissioned from the ROTC program. He was initially stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, as a platoon leader and troop executive officer, then with the 2d Cavalry Regiment at Fort Polk, Louisiana, where he had troop command. He commanded in Baghdad, Iraq, with the 2d Squadron, 2d Cavalry, specifically in Sadr City from April 2003 to March 2004.

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Karen DeYoung Karen DeYoung
Associate Editor
The Washington Post
Karen DeYoung is associate editor at the Washington Post, where she has worked since 1975. Before assuming her current position, she served the Post as assistant managing editor for national news, national editor, London bureau chief, foreign editor, and Latin America bureau chief. She has won a number of awards, including the 2003 Edward Weintal Award for Diplomatic Reporting, Sigma Delta Chi awards for investigative reporting and foreign reporting, and a Pulitzer Prize she shared with several Washington Post colleagues for national coverage of the war on terrorism.

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John Donvan John Donvan
ABC News Nightline
John Donvan is a correspondent for ABC News Nightline. Donvan was praised for his work covering the war in Iraq as a unilateral reporter, for which the Chicago Sun-Times named him one of the ten war stars. He has made several return trips to Baghdad since. During a career of over two decades, he has worked for ABC News as chief White House correspondent, chief Moscow correspondent, Amman bureau chief, Jerusalem correspondent, and correspondent for the ABC News magazine Turning Point. Donvan has won two Emmy awards, several Overseas Press Club Awards, and two CINE Golden Eagles. He has been honored by the National Association of Black Journalists, the Committee of 100, and the Media Action Network for Asian-Americans.

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Stephen F. Hayes Stephen F. Hayes
Senior Writer
The Weekly Standard
Author, The Connection
Stephen Hayes is a senior writer at the Weekly Standard and author of The Connection: How al Qaeda’s Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America. Hayes was a senior writer for National Journal’s “Hotline,” and he served for six years as director of the Institute on Political Journalism at Georgetown University. His work has appeared in the New York Post, the Washington Times, Salon, National Review, and Reason. He has been a commentator on CNN, the McLaughlin Group, the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNBC, and C-SPAN.

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James F. Hoge Jr. James F. Hoge Jr. 
Foreign Affairs
Former publisher
New York Daily News
James Hoge has been the editor of Foreign Affairs since 1992. He has spent three decades in newspaper journalism specializing in the area of U.S. foreign policy, media issues, and international economic trends. He has served as a Washington correspondent, editor in chief and publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, and then publisher and president of the New York Daily News. He was a fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1991, a senior fellow at the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University in 1992, and a congressional fellow of the American Political Science Association in 1962. A former director of the Council on Foreign Relations, he is currently chairman of the International Center for Journalists and a director of the Foundation for a Civil Society and Human Rights Watch.

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Bruce Lawlor Bruce Lawlor
Former Homeland Security Advisory CouncilFormer Chief of Staff Department of Homeland Security
Major General Bruce Lawlor is a former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) to the Department of Homeland Security. He has extensive experience in homeland-security policy formulation and operational planning, as well as homeland-security operations execution. He was the former chief of staff of the Department of Homeland Security, former senior director for Protection and Prevention, White House Homeland Security Council, and the first commanding general, Department of Defense Joint Task Force–Civil Support. The general’s military service began in 1967. After service in Vietnam from 1971 to 1973, he received a direct commission in 1974 as an intelligence officer. He also served as brigade commander, 86th Brigade; special assistant, Supreme Allied Commander Europe; and assistant division commander, 42nd Infantry Division.

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Frank Sesno Frank Sesno
Professor of Public Policy and Communication
George Mason University
Special Correspondent
Frank Sesno is a professor of public policy and communication at the George Mason School of Public Policy and a special correspondent for CNN. He is an Emmy-winning journalist with more than 25 years of experience, including 17 years at CNN, where he was a White House correspondent, anchor, and Washington bureau chief. He now teaches how the media affects the creation of public policy and is a host and producer of in-depth specials and mini-series on PBS and the History Channel. Mr. Sesno has been awarded several prestigious journalistic awards, including an Emmy, a CINE Award, several Cable Ace awards, and an Overseas Press Club Award.

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Victoria Toensing Victoria Toensing
AttorneyJustice Department Official, 1984–88Chief Counsel
Senate Intelligence Committee, 1981–84
Victoria Toensing is a founding partner of DiGenova & Toensing, and an internationally known expert on white-collar crime, terrorism, national security, and intelligence matters. She was chief counsel to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 1981 to 1984 and a Justice Department official from 1984 to 1988. She has cohosted CNBC’s Equal Time and Rivera Live! and is a frequent legal analyst on national television programs dealing with politics, criminal justice, national security, and terrorism. Her op-ed pieces on law and national security have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and USA Today. During her 16 years in private practice, she has represented major corporations and individuals in both criminal and civil matters. Prior to law school, she was a high-school English teacher.

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Michael Yon Michael Yon
Journalist / Blogger
Embedded with U.S. Army, Iraq
Author, Deuce Four: The Battle for Mosul
Michael Yon is a full-time author who wrote a self-published book about his experience as a soldier in the U.S. military, entitled Danger Close. He was one of the youngest soldiers ever to pass the grueling Green Beret selection process. An accomplished photojournalist, Mr. Yon embedded with the U.S. Army in Iraq from December 2004 to October 2005. His Web journal, located at, has been featured on major news Web sites, including Time Online, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC News, CNN, and CBS. A photograph he shot at the scene of a car bombing in Mosul received international media attention, resulting in his appearance on Fox News, CBS’s Early Morning, and ABC’s Good Morning America, as well as many radio programs. The photo was printed on the front page of more than fifty major U.S. daily newspapers, including the Washington PostUSA Today, the New York Post, and the Washington Times, and was Time magazine’s Viewers’ Choice photo of the year. Mr. Yon’s work has been featured in magazines and newspapers around the globe, from the New York Times to the London Sunday Times, and from the Weekly Standard to Jane’s Defense Weekly.


View Program and Text Highlights

The video highlight shows our panelists in action. The Discussion Guide frames their debates in contemporary terms, while the Ethics Reader grounds the discussion in the philosophy of the past.

View Program Highlight

Four years ago, a coalition led by American forces invaded the Central Asian nation of Khaoistan, where warlords had destroyed the central government and were supporting major terrorist activities. Today, the process of rebuilding the nation and fighting off an insurgency continues, covered by a group of journalists based in the capital city.

A while after his arrival, a journalist becomes “embedded” with an army unit in Khaoistan. The unit is going on a raid of a house where an insurgency leader is based. At the operation itself, the journalist videotapes a disturbing incident: an inexperienced American soldier shoots and kills a wounded, unarmed Khaoistani prisoner he had been assigned to guard. No one else has this video. What should the journalist do? He can decide not to send this video back to his editors or if he does send it back should his editors air it? Why or why not?

Read Text Highlights

Framing This Discussion (from the Discussion Guide)

When we assign journalists to cover a war, and they are embedded among the troops, what do we expect in their reporting?

The duties of patriotism and secrecy that concern us in wartime have to do with military advantage and the need to raise hopes at home and sow despair among the enemy. Many believe that the only stories and images that should emanate from the war zone should show the enemy still ruthless, but helpless and in disarray, while our troops are shown as virtuous, heroic, enormously powerful and winning. Some would say that showing our troops in a bad light should not be reported.

When journalists under fire are asked as a matter of patriotism not to make public what they see, their country may suffer in two distinct and different ways. First, the journalist’s function to tell the truth that is needed for citizens to act rationally for the public good may be lost. Second, the true and good understanding of patriotism, which should be concerned for the “rightness” of the country as well as its identity, may be lost. In asking journalists to self-censor their work in the interests of patriotism, would we lose the unique perspective that the journalist can bring to the country’s understanding of itself?

For a deeper examination of the analysis abridged here, see the Discussion Guide.

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Philosophical Grounding of This Discussion (from the Ethics Reader)

Thomas Jefferson once said that there should be a revolution at least every twenty years, and that we would understand the rights and wrongs of it by watching the reaction of the people:

“I am persuaded myself that the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army. They may be led astray for a moment, but will soon correct themselves. The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

To read selections from philosophical texts relevant to this program, see Ethics Reader.

Read Related Articles

Perspectives on the Press
Michael Yon

Most of the information for mainstream media reports on the war in Iraq comes from the U.S. military. An embedded journalist explains how this system can distort the news.


Confidential Sources: Journalists Under Siege
Floyd Abrams

In most democratic nations, journalists receive a high level of protection for their confidential sources. Why doesn’t the United States give its journalists the same protection, and what should be done about it?