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Bureau chiefs clash over pool arrangements

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering         Nov 20, 2001    

Bureau chiefs clash over pool arrangements

  • Journalists criticized Pentagon officials for not granting a seat to Associated Press for the defense secretary’s recent trip to Central Asia.

For weeks, journalists covering the war in Afghanistan butted heads with military officials over access to American troops in combat. Last week, they clashed over access to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself.

On Nov. 9, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley met with Washington bureau chiefs to figure out a “fair and predictable” way to select which news organizations would travel with Rumsfeld on foreign trips.

The meeting touched upon concerns that the Associated Press, the world’s largest wire service, was not selected to travel with the defense secretary on his most recent trip to Cental Asia. Six seats available for the trip went to TV outlets and four to newspapers: USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, Victoria Clarke, described the AP’s omission as “baffling, disappointing,” noting further that “no news organization is more important to the flow of information to the people of the United States than the Associated Press.” The letter concluded that “for American newspapers it is essential that their first source of news — the Associated Press — always be included.”

At the meeting with Quigley, many newspaper bureau chiefs insisted that the Associated Press should automatically have a seat. Other wire services did not.

“Of course I strongly disagree with you,” said Francis Kohn of Agence France-Presse, the French news service. “Having just one wire service would be absolutely unacceptable.”

Ralph Yarding of Reuters said: “One wire service may get you some coverage, but if you include the three that have traveled regularly over the last few years, that is Reuters, AFP, and AP, you reach everybody.”

Military officials and bureau chiefs failed to reach a compromise, although they agreed that the most important job is to get information to the most people in a timely fashion.

“The people we have to worry about being fair to are the people of our country and the world who need to be informed about this war,” Jill Abramson of The New York Times said.


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