Major news outlets secret agreements?
February 29, 2008 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Major news outlets agreed to keep Prince Harry's deployment to Afghanistan secret for security reasons; Dick Cheney's hunting accident was kept from the media for at least a day... What are other examples of these government & media secret/blackout practices?
posted by MrBCID to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The New York Times had the Bay of Pigs story before the invasion, but held onto it at Kennedy's request.
posted by thrako at 7:33 PM on February 29, 2008

Until maybe 25 years ago, the sexual hijinks of Presidents were not seen to be news-worthy, which is why FDR and JFK's philandering wasn't widely known when they were alive.

It's long been accepted practice by the press to keep children of the President out of the news unless the White House explicitly says it's OK, or until they clearly make themselves into news. So the press has largely ignored Chelsea, until Chelsea started campaigning for her mom.

Both of those rules have started cracking, beginning maybe 15 years ago. The Lewinsky affair (as it were) pretty much ended the embargo on coverage of presidential philandering, and during the Bush administration there has been at least some coverage of Bush's daughters, in ways which would never have been considered acceptable 25 years ago.

During the 1991 ground action in Kuwait, and in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, attached press was subject to censorship which they agreed to ahead of time. Mostly what got censored was operational details which might be useful to the enemy (e.g. where particular units were located at the time of a live broadcast). In 1991 in particular, Schwarzkopf moved an entire army corps a hundred miles to his left flank in preparation for the now-legendary "left hook".

That all said, you do realize that as asked your question cannot be answered? If the news outlets have suppressed a story, then we wouldn't know about it to tell you about it, right? The only cases we can really tell you about are the ones where the blockade was eventually broken and the story revealed.
posted by Class Goat at 7:40 PM on February 29, 2008

I have no idea how reliable or valid this source is, but with so much listed, some of them must be what you need:

Examples of "spiked" news stories
posted by rokusan at 8:07 PM on February 29, 2008

I believe that a few years ago on Thanksgiving Day, President Bush was secretly flown to Baghdad to serve the U.S. troops a holiday dinner. He "handpicked" some reporters to accompany him, informing them that if they leaked anything before he got there, he'd turn around and cancel the whole thing; it worked, and it was not reported until the next day.
posted by Melismata at 9:02 PM on February 29, 2008

The New York Times sat on its expose on wiretapping for a full year at the request of the Bush administration.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:08 PM on February 29, 2008

The avian flu outbreak of 1918 is often called the "Spanish flu." It didn't originate in Spain, and plenty of other countries were hit hard by it. But most other countries censored their newspapers due to their involvement in World War I. Spain wasn't involved in the war, so there was no censorship, and news of the flu from Spain received greater press coverage.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 10:23 PM on February 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have no idea how reliable or valid this source is,...

Let's see... WTC 7 collapses mysteriously, George Soros consorts with criminals, black people kill white people all the time AND NO ONE CARES, Danger! Congress has MORE JEWS THAN EVER, Wow, that site is certainly fair and balanced.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 10:28 PM on February 29, 2008

FDR's polio was kept secret by the press for some time.
posted by ryanissuper at 11:11 PM on February 29, 2008

FDR's polio was kept secret by the press for some time.

That's a bit misleading. He was paralyzed more seriously than he showed, and it was well-known that he had been somewhat disabled. He purchased/founded the spa at Warm Springs before he was even Governor. Part of his image was being a fighting invalid.

TIME, 1927: In 1924, Franklin D. Roosevelt, on crutches as result of an attack of infantile-paralysis, pleaded for party unity to warring factions of the Democratic party in convention assembled at Madison Square Garden.

Last week Mr. Roosevelt, who still walked with the aid of a cane....

But he was very rarely seen in a wheelchair and almost never photographed in one, though. You could say that the press cooperated with his image-making. (Anyway, it probably wasn't polio.)

Regarding Prince Harry or Bush's Iraq visit, there's a clear distinction between news blackouts "until X" that are done for someone's safety, and just general news embargoes, such as announcing a corporate merger at a specific time agreed by the parties (e.g. to comply with SEC regulations). Normal embargoed stories are fair game, but it's really ... difficult to defend putting someone in danger just for the sake of a scoop.

Embedded press agree not to publish anything regarding the operational details of the unit (or generally army) they're embedded with, and certainly telegraphing military moves in advance can actually be treated as a criminal act or even espionage, depending on circumstance.

The Cheney story, though, does not seem to be an instance of a press blackout. Nobody knew anything about the story until the ranch owner talked to the press because rumors had been running wild. This is a qualitatively different sort of thing.
posted by dhartung at 11:32 PM on February 29, 2008

DA-Notice (née D-Notice)...
posted by benzo8 at 2:48 AM on March 1, 2008

Francois Mitterand's affairs and love-child were never reported in the French press, despite being common knowledge at the time.
posted by patricio at 4:53 AM on March 1, 2008

have no idea how reliable or valid this source is...
Let's see... WTC 7 collapses mysteriously, George Soros consorts with criminals...

Okay, okay, I should have looked more closely and/or used a stronger caution tag on that one. But some of those thousands of examples must be legit.

Even flaming nutballs could be right some percentage of the time. :)
posted by rokusan at 5:00 AM on March 1, 2008

In August, 1919:

Wilson returned to the White House, where he suffered a stroke. From that time on the President was incapable of carrying out his duties. Wilson's inner circle, consisting of the First Lady, his personal physician, private secretary, and Secretary of State, kept the President's condition a secret. No one was allowed to see him. The Cabinet and press were told that Wilson had suffered a nervous breakdown. Vice President Thomas Marshall was never informed. The American people never knew that their President was an invalid. Wilson completed his second term in office in 1921. His health improved only slightly. He died in retirement on 3 February, 1924.
posted by ootsocsid at 5:04 AM on March 1, 2008

BBC News editors' blog discusses why the British media agreed not to run the Prince Harry story.
posted by Hogshead at 5:14 AM on March 1, 2008

There was an agreement between Buckingham Palace and the press that William and Harry would (for the most part; obviously Diana's death warranted some coverage, for example) be left alone until their 18th birthdays.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:17 AM on March 1, 2008

Mod note: a few comments removed - this is the green, not the blue, please stick to answers to the question, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:35 AM on March 1, 2008

rokusan: the articles you linked to aren't "spiked". They're articles that are only published by flaming nutjobs.

According to this site:
Blacks are allowed to kill anybody they want.
Gays are allowed to kill anybody they want.
Katrina wasn't such a big deal.
The NAACP is evil.
Carter is a terrorist
Gore is a liar.
Obama is a smoker.
Women should not serve the military.
It's somehow horrible that the US gave citizenship to 7000 muslims.

The only possible reason this site could interest anyone, is it could give insight into how ludicrously far-gone right-wing idiots got that way in the first place. It's racist, sexist, xenophobic, anti-semitic, paranoid, hyper-partisan and idiotic.

We're all dumber for your having linked it.
posted by mosch at 8:39 AM on March 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

On a minor note, new product releases (new cars, electronics, etc) are often available to the press well in advance, with an agreed-upon embargo date.

It's fairly common for automotive magazines to get a "scoop" simply by breaking the embargo a few days ahead of their competition (which then leads to everybody else dropping it as well).
posted by mosch at 8:48 AM on March 1, 2008

Two thoughts:
1) As someone in a technical field, I am convinced that most of the magazines covering cameras and video equipment soft peddle criticisms of new products. They're small circulation and dependent on those same companies for ad revenue, so much of their new reviews are terrible. That's not necessarily a major news agreement, but it's virtually industry wide.

2) Read Manufacturing Consent by Chomsky and Herman. It isn't just about censoring the news; it can also mean promoting one narrative to the front page and backing it up with heavy editorials and running another story in small international briefs. The other story isn't explicitly censored, but because it doesn't serve the the larger ideological interest, it gets a very different level of coverage.

There's a great annual that comes out called Project Censored ( that covers just this sort of thing. You should check it out.
posted by history is a weapon at 9:45 AM on March 1, 2008

Malaysian mainstream news outlets don't often cover anything that has to do with the Opposition parties, or anything vaguely anti-Government. There was a massive protest that involved tear gas and water cannons shot against the protestors, and all the MSM could come up with was "valiant policeman sprains arm in riot".
posted by divabat at 1:23 PM on March 1, 2008

The White House press corps routinely gives out advance information about the President's schedule to the press, on the condition that certain details and timetables not be revealed too far in advance.

Major news outlets working on extremely sensitive national security issues (of the kind that might wind up in the Supreme Court) will often give the government advance notice and hold off on publishing for a time. This happened with the NSA wiretapping story. Newspapers would rather be flexible with the government than rush to the courts for a pain in the ass legal battle that might result in an unfavorable precedent.
posted by Brian James at 3:41 PM on March 1, 2008

Wooops, meant to say the White House gives out the information to the press corps.
posted by Brian James at 3:41 PM on March 1, 2008

i find it amusing that for all "the secret is now blown" i have yet to see the name of "the US website" that actually blew the secret! anyone have an idea who tattled on Harry?!!?
posted by kuppajava at 6:33 PM on March 1, 2008

All reports I've read point to The Drudge Report for outing Harry's location.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:04 PM on March 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

As someone in a technical field, I am convinced that most of the magazines covering cameras and video equipment soft peddle criticisms of new products.

As a film buff I'm convinced most criticism of new releases is too positive in order not to anger the big studios. The explanation I favor for both of these is that in our time, the line between criticism and promotion has become much too vague. As a consumer, you must do your homework and study multiple reviews (by critics who've earned your trust) before buying that movie ticket.

But I think this only has at best a tangential relatation to the OP's question.
posted by Rash at 3:30 PM on March 2, 2008

There's a film just come out in the UK "The Bank Job" which tells the story of some guys robbing safe deposit boxes (in a bank!) and getting pictures of some princess or other on the job. The thieves were never caught, a D notice was issued and the story wasn't reported by the British press at the time on the grounds of national security.

They still issue these notices, as benzo8's link shows. I would tend to assume the internet has probably meant that the story gets out overseas more frequently than was previously the case, as with court embargoed injunctions. Any one have comments on that?
posted by biffa at 3:45 AM on March 3, 2008

rokusan: the articles you linked to aren't "spiked". They're articles that are only published by flaming nutjobs.

Okay, okay fine, I should have vetted it before posting, sheesh. I was trying to show how it's easy to find "spiked" stories online, and I picked a crappy example. I already said that.

Caveat lector, already?
posted by rokusan at 3:17 AM on March 4, 2008

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