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Letter to Rep. Duncan Hunter regarding CNN punishment


Congressman Duncan Hunter
1870 Cordell Ct, Ste 206
El Cajon, CA 92020

Dear Rep. Hunter:

The Society of Professional Journalists, one of the nation’s largest and oldest journalism-advocacy organizations, urges you to withdraw your request to the Pentagon to have CNN reporters embedded with American troops removed.

The Society believes your request amounts to censorship and prior restraint of a news organization. Also, we believe your actions merely serve to punish CNN because you and other republican lawmakers disagree with the network’s decision to air a controversial video showing insurgent snipers targeting U.S. soldiers.

While you may not agree with CNN's decision to air the video, your response is misguided. Whether in war zones or on the home front, Americans deserve to read about and hear the news as it happens. Professional journalists have an obligation to report that news accurately and without bias. Removing reporters from war zones only would cause a delay in how Americans are informed about the work being carried out by their government. Additionally, such a removal could lead to inaccuracies of what is really happening in war-torn areas of the world.

SPJ leaders take CNN producer David Doss at his word that the airing was scrutinized at the highest levels of the news organization and was subject of intense debate. In the end, the actual shooting of an American soldier was not shown. CNN also aired a warning before the video was shown to alert viewers of its graphic nature. Additionally, the cable channel tried to put the story into context with other interviews and information.

"Whether or not you agree with us in this case, our goal, as always, is to present the unvarnished truth as best we can," Doss wrote, noting that some viewers felt the piece went too far while others felt that CNN should have shown the actual shooting.

Every day, journalists weigh the public’s right to know against the public’s safety. To strike a fair balance, journalists rely upon and refer to the Society’s Code of Ethics, which states in part: “Journalists should seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable.” Additionally, the Society also has posted questions journalists should ask themselves when resolving ethical conflicts concerning wartime news coverage on its Web site. We ask that you review the educational materials SPJ provides to members of the public and press.

Americans deserve a free and unfettered press to cover the ongoing conflict in Iraq and elsewhere. American journalists are obliged to seek truth and report it and not be relegated to the role of cheerleaders for American policy.


Christine Tatum
National President, Society of Professional Journalists

Joel J. Campbell
National Freedom of Information Chairman, Society of Professional Journalists

Cc: Congressman Darrell Issa
Congressman Darrell Issa

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