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[] U.S. Military Tries to Make Peace With Press,


Editor & Publisher Online

U.S. Military Tries to Make Peace With Press
Some Reporters Say Restrictions Are Easing

By Joe Strupp

NEW YORK -- With an invasion of Iraq possibly taking place in less than
a month, many journalists who cover the military say the Pentagon is
easing its restrictions on access to information and personnel, raising
hopes that coverage of an attack might be more open than first thought.

"I'm hearing that there is a general thawing [in Pentagon
restrictions]," said Jim Wright, an assistant metro editor at The
Seattle Times and president of the recently created Military Writers and
Editors. "There is a general feeling that the military is trying to give
more access because it is in their best interest."

Most writers, in fact, agreed that any increase in media access to
troops is aimed at helping improve the military's image, not at aiding
reporters. "What is driving this is a fear that Iraq will win the
propaganda war if reporters are not on the ground with troops," said
Dave Moniz of USA Today.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, who declined to comment on specific
plans for access in Iraq or on the government's motives, said the
Defense Department is seeking to get reporters as close to the action as
possible. "There will be more [access] than there has been in the past,
certainly more than in Afghanistan," he told E&P. "We'd like to maximize
those opportunities for reporters as the standard rather than the

Other journalists who cover the military at bases around the country
agreed that restrictions were being eased. "There are a lot of good
signs here," said Sig Christenson, a military writer for the San Antonio
Express-News, which covers Lackland Air Force Base among other military
sites. "What they are doing to prepare us underscores a willingness to
provide access."

Christenson is one of dozens of reporters who have participated in
Pentagon-sponsored journalist-training programs the last two months at
military bases that have taught reporters battlefield survival, military
policy, and weapons expertise. The first sessions were conducted in
November in Virginia at both the Quantico Marine Corps Base and the
Norfolk Naval Station, with 118 journalists. The second round, held in
mid-December at Fort Benning in Georgia, had 60 journalists. A third
session, with another 60 journalists, is scheduled for this month at
Fort Dix in New Jersey. Whitman said more than 400 journalists have
asked to take part in the program.

Several military writers theorized that the military's more open
attitude (for now) stemmed from an effort to improve positive coverage
of the likely conflict, after mixed coverage during the Persian Gulf War
and last year's Afghanistan campaign. "They lost the media battle," said
James W. Crawley, an eight-year military writer for The San Diego
Union-Tribune, speaking of those previous battlegrounds. David Wood, a
Newhouse News Service reporter heading to Iraq soon, agreed. "Unless
there are huge logistical difficulties, I think they are going to do
it," he said of the promise that reporters would be "embedded" with
troops. "It will work well for them."

A few journalists, however, said greater access to information had not
happened so far, and they remain skeptical that a more positive
relationship with the Pentagon would emerge in Iraq. Said Sean D.
Naylor, a senior writer for the Army Times, a Gannett Co. Inc. weekly in
Springfield, Va., "I haven't noticed any change."

The Union-Tribune's Crawley, whose beat includes military sites in and
around San Diego, added that local base commanders had not opened up
much. "It has eased some, but they are still less open than they were
before Sept. 11," he argued. "They haven't really defined how much they
will tell us." Most reporters shared Moniz's view that promises of
openness mean nothing until they become reality: "There is a built-in
skepticism because of what happened [with a lack of access] in

Joe Strupp (jstrupp -!
- editorandpublisher -
 com) is associate editor for E&P.

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