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Agents and Reporters

by Ashley Grashaw
Jun 25, 2008

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Ashley Grashaw

The relationship between the FBI and the media is, at times, a lot like most daughters' relationships with their mothers — you know you need each other, but that doesn't stop confrontation from rearing its ugly head every now and again (more now than again, let's be real).

The FBI's job is to catch criminals, whereas the media has a responsibility to inform the public. And, sometimes, these differing agendas can stand at odds with one another. Take the DC Sniper case in 2002, when a reporter released the suspect's license plate number against the FBI's wishes who feared it would hamper ongoing investigations... In the end, a bystander recognized the license plate and called the police, which led to the arrest of two suspects. At other times, the relationship poses ethical dilemmas, as when the FBI pressed The Washington Post to publish the Unabomber's anti-technology manifesto. After much debate, the Post printed it, and as a result, Ted Kaczynski's brother turned him in.

And, as it happens, these are just two examples of the infamous cases now on display at the Newseum's new exhibit, "G-Men and Journalists: Top News Stories of the FBI's First Century." I walked through it yesterday, and to say it's cool would be an understatement. They've got 200 artifacts, including Patty Hearst's gun, Hoover's desk from his days at the FBI, and the Unabomber's actual cabin (!!!). Plus, there's over 300 photographs, and dozens of historic newspapers and interactive displays about everything from the Oklahoma City bombing and the Lindbergh kidnapping to the siege at Waco, Texas.

Today we'll talk to John Miller, who's been on both sides of the fence — first as an ABC News reporter and anchor, and now as Assistant Director of Public Affairs for the FBI. And we'll also talk to NPR's FBI correspondent, Dina Temple-Raston, about covering the FBI, and how she decides what to report and what to leave out.

So, tell us, is the relationship between the media and the FBI too close, or too confrontational? We'd especially like to here from those of you with experience on either side.

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