Journalistic “Truth survives more comfortably at a distance”: Tony Lukas’s “Afghanistan Principle”

As I monitor the news and the way that the U.S. government has chilled the speech of the institutional press of late; and as I work on the final stages of my dissertation, in which David Halberstam and J. Anthony Lukas play roles (Lukas a major one), I am reminded of Tony Lukas’s “Afghanistan Principle” of the relationships among news, truth and distance from the governmental subjects of your journalistic criticism. The following is excerpted from Halberstam’s book The Powers That Be (page 411 in my edition):

Lukas, who had spent six years as a New York Times correspondent in underdeveloped parts of the world, soon learned that if you were a Times man overseas, you could be as blunt and as tart and as perceptive as you wanted to be about the local government and there was surprisingly little home-office fallout. The closer you moved to the center of power in Washington or New York, the less you could say, and if you tried to apply the same freedom of expression in describing, for example, a water commissioner in New York as you did in describing, say, the Prime Minister of India, the comment would probably not run. The basis of the Afghanistan Principle was clearly that truth survives more comfortably at a distance.

All of which goes some way, I think, in explaining why The Guardian broke the NSA story, and why the U.S. Army has blocked all access to NSA coverage in The Guardian.

Not cool, Army.

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