When I reflect upon the unfortunate circumstance of STS-107 in 2003, I seem to have memories of hearing reports of the foam striking the underside of the vehicle before we even learned of the reentry mishap. Sometimes we have false memories though, so I was trying to find old news reports of the mission from the timespan between launch on Jan 16 and the disaster on Feb 1 a couple weeks later.
I did find this article on an ABC news site that claims Wayne Hale had posted this on a blog some years later:
"After one of the MMTs (Mission Management Team) when possible damage to the orbiter was discussed, he (Flight Director Jon Harpold) gave me his opinion: 'You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS (Thermal Protection System). If it has been damaged it's probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don't you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?"
I believe that statement confirms that NASA officials at least suspected a potential damage issue, which they had no way of verifying.
My question is: were there any reports to the public in the week or two after launch that the space shuttle had been struck by debris on its launch and that damage to the tiles was suspected?
I was not able to find anything via web searches, but then I cannot find many old newspaper stories or television broadcasts at all.