- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gates press controls

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates‘ July 2 memorandum to all top Pentagon and military leaders is part of multiyear effort to tighten controls on information provided to the media by limiting reporters’ access by officials, both military and civilian.

The memorandum, “Interaction with the media,” requires all officials to obtain approval from Mr. Gates‘ office in advance of all interviews and data releases. It is the latest step in a string of press controls imposed since Mr. Gates took over the Pentagon in 2006.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the memorandum was written before Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was fired by the president after the general’s aides were quoted in a Rolling Stone magazine article criticizing civilian leaders.

Mr. Morrell said the secretary has been frustrated for years by news stories containing classified and unclassified information on a range of topics, including “pre-decisional” information related to budget, personnel, policy and other matters that have made it difficult for Mr. Gates, and even President Obama, to make decisions effectively. He would not specify what news articles had upset the secretary.

Gen. McChrystal’s ouster last month marked the second four-star to go down because of loose lips with the press, Mr. Morrell said. The first was the 2008 resignation of dovish U.S. Central Command commander Adm. William J. Fallon, who resigned after telling Esquire magazine that he was the only thing preventing a war with Iran.

If the generals had coordinated their press activities with the Pentagon, the resignations might have been averted, Mr. Morrell said.

The Gates memorandum states that “we have far too many people talking to the media outside of channels, sometimes providing information which is simply incorrect, out of proper context, unauthorized, or uninformed by the perspective of those who are most knowledgeable about and accountable for inter and intra-agency policy processes, operations, and activities.”

Mr. Morrell said there are “scores and scores and scores” of news stories that illustrate the problem. (He noted that Inside the Ring has made “a career” of the use of insider information.)

The memo is part of an effort to develop better discipline. “We can’t have people going off as lone wolves and speaking their minds and passing it off as department policy,” he said.

Mr. Morrell made clear that the policy is aimed at plugging leaks of information to the press.

Asked whether the new policy will have a chilling effect on interaction with the press, Mr. Morrell said there is no reason it would as long as officials talk to reporters through “authorized channels.”

“If it has a chilling effect on people talking in unauthorized channels, so be it. That’s what we’re trying to clamp down on,” he said.

Other anti-press measures taken by Mr. Gates over the past several years include:

• Canceling a public affairs program that involved briefings for retired military officers and others who made frequent media appearances, despite congressional investigations that found no improprieties with the program.

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