Jay Rosen tries to get inside the heads of national security journalists:
"We try to get information on the record, oh, we try mightily. But there are some things our sources won't tell us unless we agree to keep their identities secret (on background) and there are other things they won't tell us unless we agree not to publish them at all (off the record.) It pains us, it's frustrating, and--again--we struggle against it daily, but... if it comes down to being left in the dark completely, or agreeing to these restrictions and seeing what the government has as evidence, a good reporter will take that risk because it's better to know than to be left clueless. If you know, then you have some context for interpreting what the government is saying, publicly. And that's ultimately our job, to give our listeners the context, not just the soundbite. It kills us that we can't go on the record with some of this stuff; and we fight to get as much of it as we can into our reports. But the national security beat is a tough beat, and you have to do a lot of things you don't really want to do..."
That's what they say to themselves. But what they should be saying to themselves is: Every single thing I know that I cannot tell the public is poisoning my relationship with the public and delivering me into the arms of the state.
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