Pentagon to allow full-name IDs of soldiers
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon will soon rescind its policy of not allowing reporters to identify by full name military personnel who are interviewed in the field, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, announced Oct. 17 during a Newseum panel discussion on “The Military and the Media.”
Quigley made the announcement after Susanne Schafer, who covers the Pentagon for the Associated Press, questioned the efficacy of the policy. “When you’re out with the military in the field, they want you there. You are a boost to their morale,” she said.
Schafer went on to complain that reporters were not allowed to accompany ground forces near Afghanistan and that a press pool had not been activated. Quigley replied that about 40 individuals from different news organizations were out on aircraft carriers and that his office was moving to get them on to amphibious ships launching missions.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James L. Jones said he was committed to the American public’s right to know what the armed forces are doing. “As a general concept in a democratic society, I believe it’s incumbent on all of us to make sure the public is informed … but there has to be a firewall with operational risk and current operations that affect the safety of troops and mission.”
Jones admitted that the current war on terrorism was different from previous conflicts. “We’ll have to feel our way through this … and figure out what the acceptable water level is going to be,” he said.
Quigley praised the Pentagon press corps as a group of “very good journalists who have a good and sound understanding of the delicacies of covering [military operations] … and who are concerned about the men and women whose lives they cover.”
Veteran journalist Peter Arnett agreed that the media and military have always worked pretty well together in military operations. But he forecast that controversies between the two institutions would occur once ground forces are active outside the United States. “If American troops gather outside an Afghan village, villagers see it … yet American reporters are being asked by the U.S. government to not see things in the field,” Arnett said.
|James L. Jones|
Arnett emphasized that in his 40 years of covering wars, he had never witnessed such sensitivity by Americans and journalists to issues of national security. He said the Vietnam War was never supported to the degree of today’s conflict.
Jones admitted he did not always have a “warm and fuzzy view of the press.” While on his first combat assignment in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, he felt the news media were biased in their reporting. But “I went through a metamorphosis during my career and came full circle around Desert Shield/Desert Storm and humanitarian assistance in northern Iraq,” he said.
When asked why the Pentagon had gone into such detail about civilian casualties and nonmilitary damage in Afghanistan, Jones replied that is the “yardstick by which we’re measured.”
Quigley emphasized that when errors are made, the military must establish credibility by admitting them. “We’re very good at what we do but we’re not perfect,” he concluded.
Schafer took issue with the Bush administration’s request for the networks not to air live footage of videotapes of Osama bin Laden, fearing coded messages. “There are so many means of communication … . Terrorists don’t have to depend on U.S. networks for their messages,” she said.
Arnett, who interviewed bin Laden in 1997, called him a “fearsome, legendary opponent” of the United States. He said there were many frightening aspects to the interview — massive security, for example. Also unsettling, Arnett said, was bin Laden’s insistence that he would not only make the United States pull out of any Arab lands but also come to the defense of Muslims anywhere in the world who were threatened by the United States.
The panel discussion was moderated by Peter S. Prichard, president of The Freedom Forum and Newseum. It was one in a series of programs held in conjunction with the Newseum’s War Stories exhibit, which will be on display through Nov. 11.