Calif. Journalist Suspended Over Antiwar Protest

From the archive (legacy material)

Adam Tanner, Reuters | Yahoo! | 28 March 2003

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A San Francisco Chronicle reporter suspended after getting arrested in an anti-war rally said on Friday that he felt unfairly treated and that no one should expect complete objectivity from a journalist.
The Chronicle suspended technology reporter Henry Norr, 57, effective Thursday, after he was among more than 1,300 people arrested last week for blocking public streets on the first morning after the Iraq (news – web sites) war started.
“I don’t write about national affairs, I don’t write about national politics, I write about things like (e-mail) spam,” Norr said in an interview. “To me, in any normal understanding of what is a conflict of interest, I didn’t (have) one.”
Unlike many U.S. newspapers, the Chronicle does not bar its reporters from participating in political events, but a memo distributed internally by the paper on Wednesday advises its staff to be cautious and gain approval from superiors first.
“The war is a subject that we are writing about in every section of our paper and it touches the work of most of the journalists who work here,” Phil Bronstein, the paper’s editor who wrote the memo, said in an interview.
“So we are very serious about avoiding a conflict or the appearance of conflict.”
“We do take with upmost seriousness our First Amendment responsibility which as a newspaper is to provide fair and balanced coverage and to report every side of a story, particularly in wartime, and particularly when the country has such strong feelings on all sides,” he said.
The paper told Norr, who organized marches during the Vietnam War before becoming a journalist, he was being suspended for claiming a sick day to attend the anti-war protest. “What I was feeling is that I am at heart sick of the war. I was nauseated by it all,” Norr said.
Norr said a different standard against participating in rallies should apply to reporters covering national affairs such as the Pentagon (news – web sites) or White House beat. Nonetheless, he said journalists cannot mask their personal feelings entirely.
“Total objectivity is an illusion,” he said. “Everybody has views on important issues, at least most people do.”
“The best journalism comes from people who are engaged in the world around them, who are not just blinkered scribes who sit there at the keyboard and write stories, but people who have passions and feelings and engagement.”