ABC News' Kirit Radia reports: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates today strongly defended a controversial memo he issued last week clamping down on how officials in the military and its civilian leadership interact with the media. Reporters have since complained that the memo, in the works before the recent Rolling Stone article that torpedoed General Stanley McChrystal’s career, could cause a chilling effect in relations with the press.
“I spent my first few months on the job telling military audiences that the press was not the enemy and that to treat it as such was counterproductive and self-defeating,” Gates told reporters at the Pentagon. “None of that has changed.”
Gates said he had received complaints from both President Bush and President Obama about “senior Defense officials, both civilian and military, speaking out inappropriately on foreign-policy issues.” He also expressed frustration at losing both McChrystal, who had led US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, and then-Centcom commander Admiral William Fallon due to remarks they made to the media in the past two years.
Gates defended the memo saying it was not altering the media engagement policy, but simply reaffirming existing practice by better coordinating media contacts.
“It reflected the fact that for some time now, long before the recent Rolling Stone article, I have grown increasingly concerned that we have become too lax, disorganized, and, in some cases, flat-out sloppy in the way we engage with the press,” Gates said.
“As a result, personal views have been published as official government positions, and information has gone out that was inaccurate, incomplete or lacking in proper context. Reports and other documents, including on sensitive subjects, are routinely provided to the press and other elements in this town before I or the White House know anything about them. Even more worrisome, highly classified and sensitive information has been divulged without authorization or accountability. My hope and expectation is that this new guidance will improve the quality of press engagement by ensuring that the people the media talk to can speak with accuracy and authority. This should not infringe or impede the flow of accurate and timely information to you or to the public. That is not my intent, nor will I tolerate it,” he added.
“If you're a captain in a unit that has an embedded reporter, as long as you're within the guidelines and the rules, we expect you to be open with that embedded reporter. On the other hand, if you're a captain in this building, working on budget options, I expect you to keep your mouth shut,” Gates said.