Wednesday, February 28, 2007
A report today that soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are being told not to speak with the press is apparently just the latest move in a recent effort to tighten restrictions on journalists' access to many military facilities, according to the president of Military Reporters and Editors.This is dumb in more ways than one.
James Crawley, a military reporter with MediaGeneral and MRE president, said today's revelation by Army Times that Walter Reed patients had been barred from speaking with reporters is not the first case of tightened restrictions. In recent months, he says several MRE members have reported similar crackdowns. What's worse, many of the denials are apparently in reaction to the potential negativity of a planned story.
"It is starting to look like it is becoming a policy in some areas where they are not allowing reporters on the base unless it is an absolutely positively good news story," said Crawley. "The military is making it harder and harder to do stories on bases, as far as doing man on the street interviews."
A Pentagon spokesman contacted by E&P had no immediate comment.
I'm not entirely trusting the information in this report that implies Walter Reed patients are being punished for speaking to the media. There are a lot of other things that could be at work, and far be it from me to second guess a commander's decision to order soldiers to prepare rooms for inspection or have formations.
Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.
“Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,” one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
It is unusual for soldiers to have daily inspections after Basic Training.
No, not really. Not once the commander or sergeant major has determined that there is a hygiene, roach or rodent problem in the area. But a blanket prohibition on speaking to the media is both wrong and counterproductive. Further, just because some snuffy tells a reporter that a lot of soldiers believe they're being punished for talking to the media does not make it so. I'd be interested to know how long the griper's been in the service.
There's a second, even greater level of stupidity at work here. It is simply absurd for Editor and Publisher to call a military spokesman and not being able to get a statement. If someone is currently employed as a Pentagon spokesperson and he or she cannot clearly articulate policy regarding contact with the media, that person should be fired and replaced with someone who can.
I mean, what ELSE could a public affairs officer reliably provide background on? What's more, if your own PR flacks can't be bothered to mount a rhetorical defense of the institution in the media, then who the heck will?
Sorry - I've got a day job (as you may have noticed by the waning quantity and length of posts here.)
The military has always been very clear: Servicepeople are free to speak to the media about any subject that concerns them. They are not free to speculate on matters outside their direct experience, nor are they free to directly criticize the commander in chief or the chain of command while in uniform. They are of course not free to divulge sensitive technical, operational, or intelligence information to the media. But they ARE free to speak to the media, on a factual basis, about quality of life concerns which they have direct knowledge of.
I've never seen or heard of a commander who didn't feel this way.
Here was an opportunity for the Pentagon to get out in front of this story, by clearly communicating the longstanding policy to the public -- and by extension, to subordinate commands and local PAOs.
By letting Editor and Publisher publish without a statement from the military, the Pentagon let the opportunity slip by.
That does a disservice to the Army as an institution, as well as to the soldiers serving in it.
Butch in Baghdad
Suddenly, soldiers being told that the quickest way for problems to be resolved is through their chain of command becomes a gag order.
Hardly. And, yes, Butch, sounds like your whining would make the front page of the NYTimes, too.
Kinda wierd in a hospital, though - the AMEDD was never exactly the place you went to for haircut-inspection formalities. I spent a couple of weeks in Womack AMC with a jump injury and it was pretty chill. Those guys looked at people who had come from Division like they had come from another planet. A not-very-nice planet at that.
On the other hand, they had the best looking women I ever saw in uniform on Fort Bragg. WAY better than the MI battalion. So there's always tradeoffs.