Hustler publisher takes fight over war access to court
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON A lawyer for Hustler publisher Larry Flynt asked a judge last week to order the Pentagon to let the magazine's reporters accompany American troops on combat missions in Afghanistan.
"The press has always been able to accompany troops into battle," Flynt said after the hearing Jan. 4 before U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman. "If I win, everyone wins."
Flynt first asked on Oct. 30 for access to U.S. military ground operations in Afghanistan and repeated his request Nov. 12. He filed his lawsuit Nov. 16, after Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, citing the "highly dangerous and unique nature" of the operations, offered Flynt access only to such operations as humanitarian food drops and air strikes.
The lawsuit asks the court to establish that the Constitution's guarantee of a free press means reporters have a right to document front-line hostilities firsthand, albeit subject to rules that might limit the number of reporters allowed or censor some of what they write. While acknowledging that not all missions could reasonably accommodate reporters without compromising the missions' safety or success, the suit also asks that the Pentagon be required to clearly outline how those decisions will be made.
With Flynt watching from the plaintiff's table and few spectators in the audience, his lawyer, Paul Cambria, argued that combat operations have always included reporters, until 1983 when U.S. officers tried to bar journalists from the Grenada invasion. He cited famous World War II photographs of the Normandy landing and of U.S. Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima.
Such access has benefited the nation, Cambria argued: By letting the public see soldiers' sacrifices, they can better judge the war effort.
Cambria called the Pentagon's current method of handling media requests "arbitrary and whimsical."
Government lawyers contended the news media have no constitutional right to battlefield access.
Arguing on behalf of the Pentagon, Justice Department attorney John Griffiths noted that reporters have more access to troops now than when Flynt first made his request and filed suit.
Then, soldiers were entering Afghanistan only in small numbers on highly specialized missions that could be endangered by the presence of reporters.
Now that hundreds of Marines and other military forces are stationed within the country, some restrictions on reporters are being lifted. Nothing is preventing Hustler from sending writers to Afghanistan to cover the conflict, Griffiths said.
Since the military campaign began, reporters have been allowed aboard U.S. aircraft carriers where bombing missions are launched, and have also flown on airplanes that delivered humanitarian food supplies to Afghanistan. Separately, some news organizations have stationed reporters inside Afghanistan to cover the war from the ground, but until recently none were allowed to accompany U.S. special operations troops.
The case is Flynt v. Rumsfeld.
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