Many folks like a good shoot-’em-up Tom Clancy novel, filled with supersecret spy stuff, technologically amazing weapons, and daring young men and women outfitted in black with killing gizmos of all kinds. So, too, do some folks like movies that show ultra-military sophistication and operations, many adapted from those same Clancy novels.
In novels and movies, presumably, no one really dies if fictional operational details are revealed.
But should we be reading details of real, life-at-risk military operations, such as those found in The Washington Post and The New York Times and other press outlets regarding a kidnapped merchant marine captain? Especially when those stories carry not a single named source?
In today’s Post, reporter Ann Scott Tyson details how Navy SEALs killed three Somali pirates and rescued Capt. Richard Phillips, whose Maersk Alabama had been attacked by pirates. Ms. Tyson’s story is based solely on interviews with “military officials,” “the officials,” “a senior military official,” and “the official.” There is no named source in the story.
There is this, though, about “the senior military official”: He “spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.” [emphasis added]
The Times story by Robert D. McFadden and Scott Shane — in the section specific to Capt. Phillips’ rescue — quotes only “senior Navy officials” and “the officials.” Similarly, the rescue portion of a CNN story only quotes “a military official” and “the U.S. military.”
Somali pirates, of course, have threatened revenge. “From now on, after the killings by the U.S. and France, we will add some harsher steps in our dealings with hostages, particularly American and French hostages,” said Ali Nur, a Somali pirate quoted by CNN.
No doubt pirates could figure out what happened to their three fellow felons and who did it, even without news reports.
But if any detail of a military operation in an anonymously sourced news report leads to the death of a hostage held by Somali pirates, surely the family of that sailor would like to know the name and rank of the “officials” whose tongues wagged too loosely.
If senior military officials are going to release details of a military operation, then they ought to attach their names — and reporters ought to hold them to that, deadline or “breaking news” be damned.