A life could be at stake: A plea for responsibility in news reporting

Is a desire to bashTrump or get a scoop more important than a human life?

Gary Willig

OpEds Gary Willig
Gary Willig
צילום: עצמי

It is the duty of the media to publish the news. Whether it be good news, bad news, political news, local news, international news, or news that flies in the face of our personal views, it is our obligation as journalists to see that the public is informed.

As a journalist I have published many articles which I would rather have left unwritten. I have written about people whom I find detestable. I have written about subjects which I find repulsive. I have written about developments which are not aligned with my worldview. I wrote them all, and I would do so again.

But journalists must also exercise discretion when publishing articles. There are things that happen in the world that are not newsworthy, and there are things which should not be publicized at all and there are things that are simply fake.

We have an extraordinarily free press here in Israel. But with freedom comes responsibility. The Israeli press has accepted certain limitations as a whole. We do not publicize the names of IDF soldiers who have fallen in combat until the families have been informed. No family of an Israeli soldier will learn of their loved one's passing through the media.

We obey gag orders, such as the order against publicizing the name of the teenage suspect in the bomb threats against well over 100 Jewish Community Centers across the US and many other Jewish institutions around the world. We did not publish the suspect's name even when his name was published in many foreign publications.

One of the considerations when publishing certain stories is whether those stories will put someone's life at risk.

The media has been in an uproar over accusations that US President Donald Trump shared classified information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The more information that has been revealed, the less we are sure the information is accurate, and the more troubling the case becomes.

But it is the actions of the media which trouble me more than the actions of President Trump, which may or may not be exagerrated intentionally by a hostile press.

American publications, such as The New York Times and ABC News, published stories this week in which they go into great detail about the source of the information President Trump disclosed. If they are correct, then an Israeli intelligence source has been put in danger. Even if they aren't, they have set something life-threatening in motion.

Once this information gets out, it is impossible to contain. These prestigious publications knew this, and they decided to publish this information anyway for the sake of getting a 'scoop' or for the sake of bashing Trump.

This is troubling, because if the US President unwittingly put someone in danger by revealing an ISIS plot, then these publications knowingly put that person in even greater danger by publishing information about the source of the intelligence, information that can potentially be used by ISIS to find the source.

I was given new details on the source of the intelligence Wednesday night, and I faced a choice. I could publish what had been given to me, which was more specific than previous reports on the intelligence source had been. But that very specificity, if true, could bring ISIS closer to finding the source and ending his or her life.

I asked myself: could I do this? Could I publish this information knowing that it had to potential to cost someone his or her life?

In the end I couldn't. I know that this information will be published elsewhere. It probably will have been widely disseminated, true or not, by the time you read this. But I could not...I cannot...be the one who puts a human being in danger.

I ask that my fellow journalists, whether in the US or here in Israel,consider the dangers inherent in publishing information of a certain kind. Please consider the life you may put at risk by sharing this information with the world, the information which will reach the world's most bloodthirsty terrorists who will not bother to check the validity of news reports.. Please do not exacerbate the possible mistake of the US President.

Please show a modicum of journalistic responsibility.