Hat tip to THOM SHANKER of the NY Times for this piece about the new media rules since General McChrystal had his stones rolled by Hastings and lost his command.
WASHINGTON — Nine days after a four-star general was relieved of command for comments made to Rolling Stone magazine, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates issued orders on Friday tightening the reins on officials dealing with the news media.
The memorandum requires top-level Pentagon and military leaders to notify the office of the Defense Department’s assistant secretary for public affairs “prior to interviews or any other means of media and public engagement with possible national or international implications.”
Just as the removal of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal from command in Afghanistan was viewed as President Obama’s reassertion of civilian control of the military, so Mr. Gates’s memo on “Interaction With the Media” was viewed as a reassertion by civilian public affairs specialists of control over the military’s contacts with the news media.
Senior officials involved in preparing the three-page memo said work on it had begun well before the uproar that followed Rolling Stone’s profile of General McChrystal. But they acknowledged that the controversy, and the firing of one of the military’s most influential commanders, served to emphasize Mr. Gates’s determination to add more discipline to the Defense Department’s interactions with the media.
“I have said many times that we must strive to be as open, accessible and transparent as possible,” Mr. Gates wrote in the memo, which was sent to senior Pentagon civilian officials, the nation’s top military officer, each of the armed-services secretaries and the commanders of the regional war-fighting headquarters. “At the same time, I am concerned that the department has grown lax in how we engage with the media, often in contravention of established rules and procedures.”
The memo by Mr. Gates, a former C.I.A. director, also demanded greater adherence to secrecy standards, issuing a stern warning against the release of classified information: “Leaking of classified information is against the law, cannot be tolerated and will, when proven, lead to the prosecution of those found to be engaged in such activity.”
A copy of the unclassified memo by Mr. Gates was provided to The New York Times by an official who was not authorized to release it. Douglas B. Wilson, the new assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, and Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, verified its content.
Mr. Gates’s memo “is based primarily on his view that we owe the media and we owe ourselves engagement by those who have full knowledge of the situations at hand,” Mr. Wilson said.
Mr. Gates was particularly concerned that civilian and military officials speaking to reporters sometimes had only a parochial view of a national security issue under discussion. The new orders, Mr. Wilson said, were devised to “make sure that anybody and everybody who does engage has as full a picture as possible and the most complete information possible.”
The repercussions of the Rolling Stone profile have included heightened concerns that military officers will become warier of the press — and it is expected that many officers will read the new memo as an official warning to restrict access to reporters.
Mr. Wilson and Mr. Morrell rejected those assumptions, saying Mr. Gates would remain committed to having the Pentagon work closely with reporters.
“From the moment he came into the building, this secretary has said that to treat the press as an enemy is self-defeating,” Mr. Morrell said. “That attitude has been reflected in his tenure: he has been incredibly accommodating, incredibly forthright and incredibly cooperative with the news media. That said, he thinks we as a giant institution have become too undisciplined in how we approach our communications with the press corps.”
But correspondents who cover national security issues, a realm that routinely requires delving into the classified world, have come to rely on unofficial access to senior leaders for guidance and context — and for information when policies or missions may be going awry.
Officials involved in drafting Mr. Gates’s memo cited several recent developments as central to his thinking. They included disclosure of the internal debate during the administration’s effort to develop a new policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, similar public exposure of internal deliberations over the Pentagon budget and weapons procurement, and, among others, an article in The Times describing a memorandum on Iran policy written by Mr. Gates and sent to a small circle of national security aides.
On behalf of the military, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was consulted during the drafting of the memo on media relations and “fully supports the secretary’s intent,” said Capt. John Kirby, the chairman’s spokesman.
He cited Admiral Mullen’s visit to Kabul, Afghanistan, last weekend, in which the admiral told American military officers and embassy personnel that “we must continue to tell our story — we just need to do it smartly, and in a coordinated fashion.”
Mr. Gates’s memo also orders senior civilian and military leaders to coordinate their release of official Defense Department information that may have national or international implications, and to ensure that their staff members have the experience and perspective “to responsibly fulfill the obligations of coordinating media engagements.”
The memo is expected to reanimate the professional public-affairs cadre among the Pentagon’s civilian and military staffs, who have made no secret that they have felt challenged by the growing numbers of contractors hired for “strategic communications” issues. It was one such contractor who brokered Rolling Stone’s profile of General McChrystal.