Bush praises cautious U.S. news media
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON President George W. Bush said American news media outlets would not air a "piece of propaganda" from him, and likewise should not broadcast propaganda from Osama bin Laden.
At a news conference yesterday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Russian reporter asked Bush how he could call for a freer news media in Russia while he has asked U.S. news organizations to show restraint in airing statements from bin Laden.
Bush said U.S. news outlets had rejected his recent request to air "a 30-minute tape, a piece of propaganda" of him addressing terrorism and the war in Afghanistan. An aide said later Bush was speaking figuratively, and had not made such a request for broadcast of a tape or of his speech in Atlanta last week.
"We extended the same courtesy to Osama bin Laden," Bush said. "We made that suggestion – we didn't dictate, we just suggested – and some of the news organizations, or all the news organizations, readily agreed that was a responsible posture to take, and for that, I'm grateful," he said.
Bin Laden's most recent taped release, on Nov. 3, received scant attention from American networks. The prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks condemned Arab leaders who turn to the United Nations for peace negotiations.
Bush also lavished broader praise on the news media, saying it had "never been stronger and never been freer and never been more vibrant."
"Whoever thinks I have the capability and my government has the capability of reining in this press corps simply doesn't understand the American way," he said.
Yet his administration has tightly restricted the flow of information on the war.
Even though its own satellites are thought to take far better pictures, the U.S. military is paying for the exclusive rights to commercial satellite imagery of Afghanistan, blocking the news media from buying the images.
American troops stationed in central Asia to support the war in Afghanistan are mostly off-limits to U.S. reporters. The Pentagon has imposed a tight lid on sensitive military news, particularly about special operations, and the State Department tried to block the government-funded Voice of America radio network from airing an interview with a Taliban official.
Bush and Putin embraced the Russian-American Media Entrepreneurship Dialogue, meant to help build news media in Russia.
"A strong, independent media is a vital part of a new Russia," Bush said.
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