The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is hiring news reporters to take part in TOPOFF 3, a biennial exercise in mid-March that simulates a terrorist attack on the United States, reports The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C. After the furor over federal payments to conservative commentator Armstrong Williams, the administration is emphasizing that these jobs are different. Department spokesman Marc Short said the reporters would be prohibited from relaying the results of the exercise outside of the “virtual news network” that is part of the training exercise. “You must NOT be currently employed by a real news organization and will be required to sign a nondisclosure agreement barring you from writing about this in the future,” the job posting stated.
Short said the department wants reporters to help department officials better understand how the media would respond to a weapon-of-mass-destruction attack. Paying reporters raises potential future conflicts even if the reporter doesn't now cover the governmental entity writing the check, said Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “There is a whole industry called public relations staffed with people who used to be journalists” who could do the work, he said.