The Defense Department refused a Stars and Stripes request to cover the election as it unfolded Tuesday — primarily for a "color" piece on military bases around the world, the government-sponsored newspaper said.
Stars and Stripes editor Tom Skeen said in a courtesy message to the Office of Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs before the election that he would send reporters to "common public areas on bases to capture the flavor of the Election Day."
In response, Pentagon officials said they would not allow Stars and Stripes reporters to do so, saying they did not want to be seen as participating in partisan politics.
But six months ago, the newspaper says, a memo was sent out by a military public affairs official indicating that Stars and Stripes reporters are "entitled to pursue the news in common areas of military facilities, such as shopping areas . . . areas open to general public or common facilities in housing areas."
Stars and Stripes reporters are in a unique position within the military and in journalism, in that they work on bases and carry Defense Department ID cards.
Editorial Director Terry Leonard reportedly told his news staff to go ahead and report the story in places where the memo would allow it; if they ran into trouble, they were to "state their objections and leave peaceably."
Ombudsman Dave Mazzarella reported Thursday that there were only a few run-ins, on bases in South Korea and Japan. But, he wrote, "The difficulty with this unnecessary policy edict is not with how it played out around the world last night, but in any precedent officials see it as setting. It needs to be rolled back."