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'Free Press' group wants a not-so-free press: Wichita State University college professors form group that calls press coverage of the Persian Gulf war treason.

|Free Press' group wants a not-so-free press

Wichita State University college professors form group that calls press coverage of the Persian Gulf war treason

In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war -- while many journalists are analyzing how the military was able to control news access so successfully -- a group headed by two Kansas college professors is accusing some of the press of "treason" in its reporting.

Taking the name "Americans for a Free Press," the group has sent a petition statement condemning the coverage of the war to some 470 newspapers.

Among other charges, the petition accuses the press of "providing intelligence to the enemy," of reporting on "civilian suffering, real or purported, when the natural and probable consequence will be to inflame our enemies, divide Americans and undermine our national resolve," and, by reporting from Iraq, of "impeding the targeting [of Iraqi installations] by American forces."

Reporters were trying to "establish American acquiescence in a dubious journalistic ethic that acknowledges no loyalty to the United States even during armed conflict," the petition says.

"We call upon all Americans ... profoundly to question any doctrine that asserts that treason, in whatever guise, is encompassed within free speech," the petition concludes.

While the petition mentions only television coverage, the group's cofounder, Wichita State University business law professor Dwight D. Murphey, said in a telephone interview that much newspaper and wire service coverage deserves condemnation, too.

"From Jan. 15 to March, we also noted this in the Associated Press, the Knight-Ridder chain and various others. It really typifies the major print media," Murphey said.

Specifically, Murphey criticized what he called "almost daily reports" in newspapers of Allied strafing of Red Crescent truck convoys, or of interviews with Iraqi refugees.

"I think it's propaganda," he said. "Now, I assume it's not true. I don't know that for certain."

Stories about Iraqi civilian casualties, truthful or not, simply should not be published or broadcast, Murphey said.

"I don't think the press ought to be running empathetic stories."

CNN reporter Peter Arnett's interview with Saddam Hussein late in the war particularly upset the group, Murphey said.

"My God, imagine interviewing Hitler in April of 1945."

Murphey and fellow Witchita State academic Everett Johnson, an electrical engineering professor, formed the group from participants in "support America" rallies held in the Kansas city during the war.

The two say a national debate should be joined over what Murphey said was "an above-the-battlefield journalism that can be extremely damaging in war."

Murphey said the petition has generated some calls from around the country, but conceded that the debate has not been joined on the Wichita State campus.

"I don't think we even sent a copy [of the petition] to the newspaper we have here," Murphey said.

"Americans for a Free Press? No, I haven't heard anything at all about them," said Christine Paugh, editor of the student newspaper, The Sunflower.

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Title Annotation:Americans for a Free Press
Author:Fitzgerald, Mark
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Date:Apr 6, 1991
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