When Do Publishers Draw a Line?

By CajunJoe, a Trail Mix Contributor

The most shared story over the weekend is from the Washington Post about the failure of ISIS terrorists to recover and use radioactive cobalt 60 to fabricate a ‘dirty bomb.’

The key elements of the story are that in Mosul’s university hospital there was a sizable cache of cobalt 60 that ISIS left untouched, either by design or through ignorance as to how to recover and utilize it. “They are not that smart,” opined one health ministry official.

The article goes on to say and imply how hospital waste, along with other nuclear waste, is a dangerous and potentially ‘soft’ target for potential terrorists, both in the United States and abroad.

While the Washington Post stated that it had learned about this cache in Mosul last year, but deferred publishing the story at the U. S. Government’s request, the question remains: Why now? Why at all?

It might be argued that organized terrorist groups are well aware of how to acquire and build dirty bombs, perhaps even ‘regular’ nuclear bombs, if they could procure the fuel. But there are, as is frequently demonstrated, a large number of ‘dumb’ terrorists, for whom articles, such as this one, might serve as inspiration.

I’m a big “First Amendment” guy. I abhor censorship of any kind, including self-censorship. But I also am sensitive to the notion that there is ‘dangerous’ information that, in the wrong hands could do us, could do all of humanity great harm.

What’s a publisher to do?

P.S. This might be a great question for the Washington Post’s Ombudsman/Public Editor. Alas, it has none.

More Posts by CajunJoe


74 thoughts on “When Do Publishers Draw a Line?”

  1. cajunjoe, good topic to ponder.  it also touches on what’s described in city beat
    Copycat Crimes and Coverage
    A common lapse involves “blackbird journalism.” It takes its name from birds sitting on a utility wire. When one flies off, the rest usually follow.

    and in a magazine article from india Is ‘Lynchistan’ The Result Of Copycat Effect, Bad Journalism, Or Both?

    another aspect were the various WikiLeaks leaks….  a real “to dump or not to dump” dilemma.

  2. cajunjoe,

    I give you the highest compliment for this Post: I will be thinking about it all day.

  3. I subscribe to the opinion expressed by my insightful colleague, Ms NY.

    Loose lips sink VIPs.

  4. Good morning trail and very provocative, Joe.  Unfortunately, there is no global first amendment on the internets. We must rely on world ethics to keep the bad stuff out-of-the hands of bad humans who want to destroy some or all of us.   Many thought our technology would bring us together, make us more civilized, socialized.  It works both ways…instead of artificial intelligence, we get artificial stupidity which leads to crime.  There is war on the internets and we are woefully behind in defining the crime and passing laws to rout-out the criminal element.   When the printing press was invented and the word spread?  Knowledge and bs spread upon the world, too.  It has been a battle ever since between good and evil on how to use our new found technologies.  Or we could do what regressive societies do, shut down parts of the internets…block providers.

  5. ‘Artificial stupidity’, I like that phrase. As long as there are folks like al qaeda, isis, and the no Kor Imperial Court, global ethics will remain Jurassic.

  6. A beautiful morning glory to Naruto.

    Where is the outrage of the trumpence admin over the human trafficking in San Antonio, texas?  There were children in that truck.  trump shows more empathy for the nork leader and children in syria than what is happening in his own country.  BTW he just ordered-up foreign, contract labor from for his mal (mar-a-lago).  And while the heat continues in the southwest US?  arizona border patrol raids desert aid camps in late June.

  7. Not sure that holding the story was necessary.  Who doesn’t know that hospitals have radioactive materials related to screening and cancer treatment procedures?  But I guess that some ISIS leaders might not know that – but who can tell?  Using the “national security” trump (sorry) card always makes me suspicious, and as a publisher I would be reluctant to comply.  Why didn’t the ISISers take the stuff?  Fact is, dealing with radioactive stuff is dangerous and kills people who don’t know how to do it right. But what do they care?  Have expendable minions retrieve the stuff and build the bombs, then so they don’t die a protracted and painful death, strap explosives to them and send them off to blow someone up.  God what a f*@ked up world.

  8. We do have nuclear threat at our doorsteps.  Let us not forget that our commander-in-thief wants to escalate nuclear armament  and no care of what is already out there for terrorists or leaking in Hanford, WA.

    Yes, nuclear material, codes, etc. in the hands of man-infants, king babies.  All of it very dangerous.

  9. Answer from yesterday:
    I’ll keep insulting Bernie as long as the cable people continue to book him almost daily as the VOICE of a party he doesn’t belong to and has done everything possible to undermine.  The man is a fraud.  Not quite at the POTUS level but equally venal and deceitful.
    If you think the Brian wars were something, you should have been on the receiving end of the Bernie Bros & Bots throughout 2016 not to mention that disgusting display at the Democratic convention.  The fault in the party is not with those who despite reservations, wholeheartedly backed our candidate and it isn’t our fault now that we are willing to back any legitimate voice that comes forward.  That voice is not Bernie.


  10. When not to publish? In this day and age of phony news and totally fabricated news articles , it would seem that for responsible orginasations at least( are there any?) the question of sourcing would be the most compelling and legitimate reason not to publish.

    I echo Pogo’s sentiments when it comes to claims of national security. If we held off publishing every story that had national security implications there would be a damn sight less to read. Claims of national security concerns are all too often code for, ‘somebody is going to be embarrassed.’

  11. Jamie,

    Couldn’t agree more. When the votes really mattered, too many Bernie bros. chose calamity over compromise and disaster over decency.

    I’m not sure what the road map to democratic resurgence will look like but it won’t lead through Vermont nor will it be drawn by a confirmed independent or his minions. At least not for this Democrat.

  12. “I understand the press giving a lot of attention to the drama of changing press people, but that doesn’t even register against the import of what’s happening on the Russia investigation front.”

    Charles Blow – 7/24/17

  13. The test for publishers in these cases is whether the public benefit of the information in question outweighs the risk.Maybe they could have kept this story more generalized and run it in the beginning, alerting us about the need to secure hospitals without getting details tip off would-be terrorists.

  14. Jamie (& Jace), I hear you. Wonder how many bernie supporters who didn’t vote for hillary would have if they knew Trump was going to win.

  15. CJoe…   thanks for this column…  it’s an interesting question.  I do think there are times when the press should hold off on some matters….  thinking about the outing of Valerie Plame or any other of our agents.  But Pogo’s argument of it being used as an all too easy excuse is a good one too.

    I’m not one to criticize Bernie or his supporters.  But Craig… asking a question as to who they would have voted for knowing that SFB would win is a straw man.  There was no way to know before casting one’s vote…  and afterwards is only hindsight.  Therefore, IMO, thinking about that is irrelevant.

  16. When the risk is infinite, global, and fatal, and the benefit is merely drawing more eyes to the advertisements, I say, err on the side of life.

  17. The lesser of 2 evils is not an attractive choice. Ms C lost after 25 years of smears. I know folks who honestly believe that she murdered Vince Foster, and that he was the father of Chelsea (Never mind that he looked NOTHING like her, and that her eye color proves that she can’t be his child !) It’s insane, but after 25 years of this crap, people begin to believe. That Ms C has become secretive, cautious, and calculating, doesn’t help her case, but who can blame her after a quarter century of deceitful and malign alternative biographies and name-calling. My god, if republicans stoop so low as to call 12 year old Chelsea a dog, as rush limbaugh did, how can anyone blame Ms Clinton for trying to keep all communications under wraps. The rippers’ aptitude for calumny and villainy knows no bounds.

    To many people, the pre-election Comey disaster seemed to give credence to all the lies repugs had told about Ms Clinton, going back to 1991. Who in America would want to vote for the False Hillary of the ripofflicans’ invention ? Not Jamie, Bink, or Jace, if they didn’t didn’t know better. Millions just didn’t know better.

  18. XR, love the word calumny.  It should be used more often to describe the RW smear machine, now led by the calumnist in chief.

  19. Far too many of our men and women, far too much of our nearly irreplaceable knowledge and experience, and far too much of our horrendously expensive materiel are put at risk every time we launch a ginormous aircraft carrier. The russhunz have enough cruise missile firepower to overwhelm a carrier, so I have long felt that we are putting too many of our precious ‘eggs’ in one sort of basket.

    Apparently, trump thinks we need to concentrate even more of our human and financial treasure into these big targets. Therefore, I wonder whose side he’s on . . . .  Na. I don’t wonder at all.

  20. Me, too, Renee.

    And looking at the word ‘calumny’–with a slight modification it can be used to characterize certain despicable publications. The writers in those publications should certainly be known as calumnists. Their transgression? Columny.

  21. Everyone knows exactly what PG will do…..he will do whatever causes chaos…..the more the chaos the less they can touch him.
    He’s not concerned with consequences. Except those which apply to him.

    And then, you have to factor in the Alzheimer’s…….that’s a problem.

  22. xrepublican – the generals are always fighting the last war.  Carrier operations are like having a big fire base.  Cool.  Does not do much to fighting a laptop connected through a Wi-Fi link.  But, big shiny objects are what keeps the money flowing to DoD.  Next up will be the new design for a coal fired battleship.

  23. Right now, he’s exploring his options as what’s the best way of “fighting dirty”. That’s where he goes when he’s in a bind…..

    Hell. he might even try to cross the Rubicon……he does seem to have delusions of Caesarness.

    although he probably is more like Nero.

  24. The daily calumner. That sounds like the sort of smear machine a mucker carlson might found with his brother taker carlson.

  25. … and recently seems to have a fascination with Napoleon (probably because of his tiny hands).

  26. Mr Sturgeone, How are these for his last words,

    “What a negotiator the world is losing.”

    Or, “You too, breitbart ?”

  27. Coal fired battleship. Now that’s a weapon to dream about. That will Make America Great Again!  Anyone who served in the Navy and had a belowdecks job were ranked as Fireman from the era of coal fired ships. We were later called Snipes but held the Fireman rating from E-1 to E-3. E-4 through E-9 non-commissioned officers. Shit flows downhill so pity the poor Firemen who had to shovel coal all day and night.

  28. He will soon find himself totally at the mercy of The Great God Necessity.

    That’s when the flotillas begin to collide with the beaches.

  29. Prof, I’ve thought about your time aboard your aircraft carrier–without envy. And that made me recall the cranking up the Iowa Class battleships back in the 1970s in preparation for their service in the 1980s. They weren’t coal, but very high pressure oil fired boilers. (I was at Lowry AFB in the early 70s for some schooling and there were some old Navy chiefs there who had just been recalled from retirement to help bring the vessels to life.)

    Personally, I’d trade the Gerald Ford for a modern BB with railguns, etc.. Let the Marines choose what type of airpower they want and we’ll get it for them.

  30. How’s the muffler on that bus looking Junior? twitter.com/occupywallstny…
    —Howard Dean


    Just you think Jace & I are all alone in the great wide world.  This one is making the Twitter rounds with more than 500 shares in the few minutes it has been available.

  32. Old Jeff “Hound Dog” Sessions really thought he was going to be “one of the guys” with that buncha New Yawkahs…….
    That’s pretty darn funny.

    Guess they should have spelled it out for him…..should have drawn him a picture……

  33. Sturg,

    Beauregard musta figgered that DC was close to Virginny, which was suth’un, so it’d all work out.  Prolly thought he could help translate or sumpin. WRONG.

    Jamie, you and Jace aren’t alone in the great wide world.

  34. Yeah, that’s it…a buffah…..Haha, the family’s got a LOT of buffahs……

  35. The thing is, the old guy is already ancient history, an asterisk in a college history book.*

    *High school history ends with Gulf Fiasco I. Grade school history ends with reagan’s MIGHTY triumph over a tiny island in the Windward Group.

  36. They don’t care if the Kush is under oath…..that means they don’t care what he says…….they already know it all…….

  37. Any thoughts about National Democratic bigwigs meeting in Virginia to unveil “A Better Deal”? Word play on Art of the Deal? I would love to see an updated New Deal.

    Wondering if the % of non affiliateds will continue to rise as it did leading up to the 2016 election, especially among Hispanic voters. Both major Parties need non affiliateds to win. Hope we are treated respectfully 😉


  38. Of course the slickest slogan in the world means squat if there’s no viable candidate behind it.


  39. Thanks for all your thoughtful comments on the decisions publisher/editors make on running a story or not. I have been in this position, and its not a comfortable one to be in. If you want to stay popular in the newsroom, you’d never quash a story, but would wrap yourself in the first amendment flag. Conversely, if you decide not to run, the newsroom considers you to have ‘sold out.’ As several mentioned above, the decision needs to be based on more than just a general claim of ‘national security.’

    But sometimes there are good reasons to withhold information, often, but not always, for national security reasons. Media routinely withhold the names of juveniles and victims of some crimes. War correspondents quite often withhold information on troop movements and other information that would aid the ‘enemy.’

    I remember back in the 1970s a magazine published essentially blueprints for making an atomic bomb. To the best of my knowledge no one ever actually built a bomb from those plans, and, if I recall correctly, the plans were flawed and wouldn’t have worked anyway. Still, one has to question the judgement of publishing what the writer thought to be a working plan.

    Anyway, thanks for the discussion.

    Best to all.


  40. Flatus.  Four battleships were in service when I was in the Navy. When I got out in 1961, only the Iowa and the Missouri were still active. Battleships represent the old Navy and are very popular as memorials around the country. The Missouri and the Arizona are in Hawaii, the North Carolina and the New Jersey are in their home states. Parts of WWII battleships have ended up in their home states, too. The University of Illinois uses the ship’s bell for celebrating touchdowns. The folk lore of battleships is unsurpassed by all other kinds of ships even though they weren’t particularly effective as warships. Impressive as all get out because of their sizes and firepower, though.

  41. A few beginning thoughts for pence’s oration over the ruins of trump

    Mike’s Slavish Funeral Address

    Friends, Russian countrymen, and billionaires,

    I come to bury DJ, not to pardon.

    The brazen, living and dead, who flouted here,

    pardoned beyond my two pence to addle or distract.

    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

    But, when the team is fourth and long, and the timer loads

    a Second Amendment-guaranteed pistol,

    remember Donald, and win one for the Grabber.

    Lead me now into trumptation [trump tower ?], and delivery me everything,

    for Mine is the Right, the Power, and the Glory, forever.



  42. Cajon. More Navy stuff: In my day, newspapers almost always reported where the big ships were and where they were going even before the crews knew.  My parents would tell me where I was going before we shipped out. Not much has changed if the first amendment and a free press are working.

  43. Kushner says, “I did not rely on Russian funds” for his business. Hmmm, doesn’t mean he didn’t get any.

  44. Kushner saying he didn’t “rely” on Russian money like Hannibal Lecter dismissing evidence against him: “It was incidental.”

  45. “I didn’t rely on Russian funds.”  The word ‘solely’ is understood in that sentence.

  46. Great speech Trump gave to the Boy Scouts today.  What is the color of the uniform shirts these days?

  47. This would be a really good time for Mueller to start dropping a buncha shoes.

  48. Sturgeone

    Echo that thought.  God would I love to hear:  Roll Call:  McCain?  McCain:  Nay


  49. Sorry, McCain will support the Republican Majority leader tomorrow. He would not be jeopardizing his own health when he can vote no by staying away and staying in AZ.

  50. Sorry, Jace, about your new home state team, the Mariners, losing yesterday to the damn Yankees.  Hope you had fun at the game no matter the outcome.

  51. The sessions-pussypincher drama is probably a distraction.

    However, if moonface wants to get even for the insults, and also wants to make a huge name for himself in the history books of the future, he will go to meet trump armed with an arrest warrant & two agents, and in the company of pence and the #2 of the Secret Service and two of his picked men. The charges would be obstruction of justice and violation of the oath of office.

  52. Would it be “out of line” to point out that today’s post disseminated sensitive information even further?

  53. bink, you’re such a party pooper 🙂


    flatus, columny, terrific word.  deserves a Pulitzer.

Comments are closed.