Why do news organizations expose secrets? Because they can. It’s in their DNA. To expect them to do otherwise is foolhardy. Latest example: word came out yesterday that a book is soon to be published purportedly authored by a former Navy SEAL who took part in the raid which killed Bin Laden.
The book, called “No Easy Day,” is scheduled to come out on September 11. According to a statement from the publisher, the author is using the pseudonym “Mark Owen” to protect his own safety.
Less than 24 hours later at least two news organizations (Fox News and Associated Press) had stories out giving what they said was the true name of the scribbling SEAL. Some may be surprised — particularly that Fox was among the first to name the author (the conservative news network has been highly critical of the Obama administration for national security leaks which (arguably) were less revealing.
Some may be surprised — be we aren’t. News organizations frequently rationalize that “if we can figure this out – so can the bad guys” and tell themselves that the only people in the dark if they don’t report their discovery will be the general public. The importance of putting out the true name of a SEAL involved in such an operation is no doubt heightened in the minds of news organizations which learn it first.
You can predict that news organizations which were slower in uncovering the name will be quick to beat up on their competitors and say that they would have never done such a thing. Don’t bet on it.
The publication of the book presents some tricky issues for the administration. The Pentagon has said that the author has not gotten the manuscript cleared as he is required to do by regulation. In the past the government has gone after authors who have skipped this requirement and won judgments in court seizing profits. In this case — the publisher has announced that “the majority” of the proceeds will be donated to a charity which looks after the children of fallen SEALS. So if the government goes after the profits — they will, in effect, be taking money from war orphans.
The lesson here: if you want to remain anonymous — don’t count on the news media helping you out.