February 6, 2013

Associated Press spokesman Paul Colford explains why the wire service participated in the “informal arrangement” among prominent U.S. news outlets to keep secret the location of a U.S. drone base in Saudi Arabia:

The Associated Press in 2011 agreed to withhold the location of a secret U.S.-run drone base located inside Saudi Arabia after U.S. officials contended that revealing the location would make the base a target of extremists, endangering people directly, and would badly endanger counterterror efforts. The AP did report at the time on secret drone operations operating from the region, targeting extremists in Yemen.

The AP on rare occasions withholds information when officials offer a compelling argument that the information could imperil national security or specific individuals. When the location of the base was made public Tuesday night, the AP felt national security concerns no longer applied and published the location.

The AP’s account provides a stark look at the considerations that weigh on editors in conversations with national security officials. Who wants to be responsible for putting U.S. installations at risk? Or for hampering counterterrorism efforts?

The flip side: Who wants to be responsible for keeping the American public in the dark on the particulars of a U.S. counterterrorism program that has killed thousands of people overseas?

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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