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Latest media-military roundtable offers press few wartime concessions

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  1. Newsgathering

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering         Oct 25, 2001    

Latest media-military roundtable offers press few wartime concessions

  • Bureau chiefs said the progress toward open war coverage comes too slow, even as Pentagon officials consider placing journalists on an amphibious assault aircraft carrier.

After a morning meeting today with Pentagon officials, Washington bureau chiefs said they are seeing “slow, but not substantial” changes in Department of Defense restrictions on their newsgathering efforts during the war in Afghanistan.

David Shribman, bureau chief for The Boston Globe, was one editor in particular inflamed by lack of improved access and the refusal of defense officials to confirm an Oct. 19 raid of U.S. Rangers and other special forces near Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Shribman told Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke that the Pentagon’s actions were “churlish” and “meanspirited.”

“I said that one of the places where the Pentagon’s interests and our interests converged was in making sure that the stuff we wrote was true,” Shribman told the Reporters Committee this afternoon. “I was troubled by the failure or the exceeding reluctance of the Pentagon to confirm Friday night what was well-known.”

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld defended the secrecy on Oct. 22 and denounced government leaks that enabled reporters to learn about the raid. He said the leaks and subsequent reporting potentially could have cost the United States lives and the mission.

But Shribman debunked such claims, saying the broadcasts came after the raid and after the Taliban knew about it. To maintain complete secrecy about the raid struck Shribman as “gratuitous and out of character with the values that we live by and the Pentagon says are important.”

“My point to Mrs. Clarke was, we can’t do our job with the kind of responsibility that the Pentagon thinks we ought to have unless we can satisfy our own standards of truth.”

In general, bureau chiefs have praised Clarke, particularly for her accessibility and general openness in meetings. But they say they don’t feel the Pentagon has made sufficient progress in getting reporters in place among military personnel.

Clark Hoyt, Washington editor for Knight-Ridder, said the bureau chiefs and the Pentagon this morning discussed placing more press pools in the area, including one on the USS Pelelieu, an amphibious assault aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean.

But he said movement in that direction has been too slow.

“Right at this very second I don’t know if there has been an impact,” Hoyt said. “But in the long term, we can’t have large-scale forces in the field and in engagements — possibly with casualties — and not have some sort of independent journalistic presence to tell the American people what’s happening.”


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© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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