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News Executives Anxious to See Press Restrictions Eased

February 25, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The news blackout on the Persian Gulf War was eased a bit more today, and news executives say coverage restrictions can be lifted even further without jeopardizing the safety of troops.

U.S. military officials said they would hold a morning briefing for reporters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. However, it was not clear when the Pentagon would resume its daily briefings in Washington.

″With such a major offensive under way, it’s kind of silly to think that reporters are going to give away military secrets,″ said James Yuenger, foreign editor of the Chicago Tribune. ″You have to wonder if this is going to be history’s first fully sanitized war.″

The U.S. military sharply restricted the flow of information from the gulf during the early hours of the ground assault. But as the first day unfolded, officials found plenty of ways to let good news filter out.

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the allied commander, broke the blackout at a briefing in Riyadh on Sunday, telling reporters, ″So far, the offensive is progressing with dramatic success.″

A short time later, combat new pools began filing firsthand accounts. And while on-the-record details were scarce, some well-placed military officials were willing to provide information if granted anonymity.

News executives expressed relief the ″blackout″ hadn’t completely obscured the Desert Storm ground operation.

Bob Mong, managing editor of The Dallas Morning News, said he believes the pool reports and Schwarzkopf’s unexpected briefing showed the military may have had second thoughts about the blackout.

″It’s really not a blackout. It’s a brownout,″ said CBS spokesman Tom Goodman. ″Information is being withheld for national security reasons and that is understandable.″

Steve Chawkins, managing editor at the Ventura (Calif.) Star-Free Press, said that while some early restrictions were warranted, ″the longer they extend it, the greater the chance for misinformation.″

Benjamin Burns, publisher of the Macomb Daily in Mount Clemens, Mich., and the Daily Tribune of Royal Oak, Mich., said he had ″not heard good justification for all the restrictions we’ve seen so far.″

″They do themselves a better service if they let the media ask questions,″ Burns said.

Dennis A. Britton, Chicago Sun-Times editor and senior vice president, said it was understandable for the military to restrict early reports to avoid endangering the troops. But taking note of Schwarzkopf’s unexpected briefing Sunday, Britton said: ″That’s far better than any of us thought.″

″If they continue in this vein, I don’t think we have any complaints,″ Britton said.

″The military has said that for right now, it is significantly curtailing news coverage in the interests of its soldiers. I just hope the balance struck here is the right one,″ said Margaret Downing, managing editor of The Houston Post.

James Houck, managing editor of The (Baltimore) Sun, said there was good reason to restrict early word about the ground operation.

″In the best of all possible worlds we’d love to be there and get information out instantly because that’s what we do,″ Houck said. ″But under the circumstances, we do the best we can.″

Bob Ebener, managing editor of The Press of Atlantic City, N.J., said he had no problem with the restrictions.

″It’s better to err on the side of safety for the troops,″ he said.

There was agreement from Bob Lauffer, editor of the Hi-Desert Star in Yucca Valley, Calif. ″It’s a bit of a cliche, but we don’t want (Iraqi leader) Saddam Hussein to find out where the U.S. is going to attack from the press,″ Lauffer said.

Critics said that while some restrictions were necessary, the military was over-reacting.

″I think this is the most restrictive the military has ever been at wartime,″ said Larry Tarleton, executive editor of the News & Courier in Charleston, S.C.

Murray B. Light, editor and senior vice president of The Buffalo (N.Y.) News, said that if the restrictions aren’t eased, ″the American public will not get a complete, uncensored picture of the fighting, the casualties, the fate of civilians in the battle areas.″

″When a nation goes to war, I think the folks that provide the bodies to do the fighting have a right to know how the bodies are doing and what they are doing,″ said Peter Hillan, national editor of the Dallas Times-Herald.

ABC spokeswoman Sherrie Rollins said the network was able to provide live reports from the Kuwaiti border by relying on reporters who were not traveling in official military pools.

She added that the restriction on coverage ″certainly does limit us, but we go elsewhere. We have had a great deal of analysis from our military experts.″

CNN spokesman Steve Haworth said the military might not have much information to divulge even if were holding regular briefings.

Rick Rudden, editor of the Daily Press in Escanaba, Mich., said the restrictions were ″prudent and responsible as long as they (government officials) don’t take advantage of it and withhold information the public should be aware of.″

″Hopefully, we’ll get back on a regular schedule of briefings,″ said Houston Chronicle Editor Jack Loftis. ″I think that the American public would demand that. They want to know what’s going on.″

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