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Larry Flynt sues Defense Department to relax news media restrictions

By The Associated Press

11.20.01

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Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt has sued the Defense Department for the right to send reporters to the front lines in Afghanistan.

Flynt asked a federal court in Washington to force the agency to loosen its restrictions on news coverage.

“The actions of American soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan are of great interest and concern to American citizens,” his attorney said in the lawsuit filed last week.

The Pentagon turned down Flynt’s request to allow writers to accompany troops on combat missions because of “the highly dangerous and unique nature” of the operations, according to a letter Flynt said he received this month from Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke.

Meanwhile, newspaper publishers last week were urged to seek better access for journalists to cover U.S. military operations against those responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

A set of principles and coverage guidelines agreed to by the Pentagon and media chiefs following the Persian Gulf War have been “violated repeatedly” during the current operations, said Hodding Carter III, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and a former State Department spokesman.

“It is not going the way it ought to,” Carter told publishers gathered Nov. 12 for the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association’s annual meeting.

The Pentagon has not provided the details about current deployment of troops or military operations that it has in the past. A Pentagon spokeswoman said last month that the military would “try to be as forthcoming as possible” about current operations, but that business-as-usual policy ceased on Sept. 11.

The news media have a good record of abiding by guidelines to prevent sensitive details from being disclosed, said Tom Kent, a deputy managing editor for the Associated Press, at the SNPA meeting.

But in the current conflict, AP reporters have not been allowed to interview pilots after they’ve returned from bombing runs or special forces after they’ve returned from a mission, he said. Access also has been restricted to American troops based in Uzbekistan, unlike the Gulf War when Saudi Arabia allowed reporters access to U.S. personnel based in that nation.

Carter told the publishers they “ought to have been screaming” earlier this month when the Pentagon did not include an AP reporter on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s trip to Russia, Pakistan and two other Central Asian countries. Kent said a number of news organizations have made strong statements to the Pentagon on AP’s behalf.

Jay Smith, president of Cox Newspapers, which owns the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Palm Beach Post, said the American public needs to know the truth, and that means hearing both good and bad news about the war. “This is for all of us the biggest story of our adult and professional lives,” Smith said.

Update

Hustler publisher takes fight over war access to court
Larry Flynt asks federal judge to force Pentagon to let magazine's reporters accompany troops on combat missions in Afghanistan.  01.07.02

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Military officials say they're willing to restrict press access to American soldiers if it means countries in region will cooperate militarily.  11.09.01

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