WashPost Publisher Admitted Media Leak To Blame for Marine Barracks Bombing

July 3rd, 2006 2:10 PM

Katherine Graham, the late publisher of the Washington Post, presided over the paper as it brought down the Nixon administration with Watergate. She has been labeled one of the most influential women of the 20th century. But in a 1986 speech, she admitted that the media were to blame for bringing down the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut. The 1983 terrorist attack killed 241 servicemen.

The U.S. had broken the code used by the terrorists to communicate. When that information was leaked to the media, the code was no longer used, and five months later, 241 Marines lost their lives.

Tragically, however, we in the media have made mistakes. You may recall that in April 1983, some 60 people were killed in a bomb attack on the U.S. embassy in Beirut. At the time, there was coded radio traffic between Syria, where the operation was being run, and Iran, which was supporting it. Alas, one television network and a newspaper columnist reported that the U.S. government had intercepted the traffic. Shortly thereafter the traffic ceased. This undermined efforts to capture the terrorist leaders and eliminated a source of information about future attacks. Five months later, apparently the same terrorists struck again at the Marine barracks in Beirut; 241 servicemen were killed.

This kind of result, albeit unintentional, points up the necessity for full cooperation wherever possible between the media and the authorities. When the media obtains especially sensitive information, we are willing to tell the authorities what we have learned and what we plan to report. And while reserving the right to make the final decision ourselves, we are anxious to listen to arguments about why information should not be aired.