By Gersh, Debra
Editor & Publisher , Vol. 124, No. 2
Pentagon prepares the press for war
No longer is it only the soldiers in Operation Desert Shield who must pass physical muster and practice mock deployments in preparation for battle; combat press corps also must be ready and able.
The Pentagon this week approved regulations for combat pool reports, and also came up with a new requirement - that pool reporters be able to pass a physical fitness test.
At first met with media incredulity, the Department of Defense required reporters participating in the combat pools to pass a physical fitness test involving push-ups, sit-ups and a mile-and-a-half run. Requirements for passing were calculated according to age and gender.
Few journalists were reported to have troubled with the test, which was scaled down to a less vigorous examination after initial protests.
According to various sources, Sgt. Rob Jagodzinski from Stars & Stripes finished in first place, while Michael Hedges from the Washington (D.C.) Times came in second.
Although one editor contacted for comment said he thought people were kidding about the test when he first heard about it, most said they had no problems with the basic test as long as it was not being used unfairly to screen out reporters.
"We want people in the combat pools to . . . be up there really seeing action," commented Washington (D.C.) Post foreign editor David Ignatus. "Since we want to be up close, it's reasonable to have our people be able to run as fast as the troops."
If there were any evidence that the tests were being used to screen out reporters or if the military imposed some sort of written test, Ignatus said he would be concerned.
"I wonder if the public affairs officers have to take the same test," commented Frank Aukofer, Washington bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal and a member of the original Persian Gulf press pool. "I think they're just trying to cover their own fannies," he said of the DoD.
Aukofer, 55, who exercises, but admitted he is "not in the world's best shape," said it was "terribly hot" in the region, but he had no trouble keeping up.
"It's more the responsibility of the individual," he noted. "We, certainly, as part of the pool were taking risks" - for example by being on military planes. Pool reporters did sign waivers.
Aukofer, who was scheduled to return to the Gulf in mid-January, said some reporters planning to go to the Middle East to cover Operation Desert Shield had begun physical fitness regimens.
"I don't know of this being required before in any war I've heard of," Aukofer added. "It's been the cause of a lot of chuckling and laughing in the press corps."
American Society of Newspaper Editors president Burl Osborne said he thinks a "test of reasonable stamina makes sense," as long as it is not punitive or arbitrary.
"I wouldn't want our own people to go if they were not able to put up with it," added Osborne, president and editor of the Dallas Morning News.
The Associated Press did not make any changes in its personnel in the Gulf due to physical fitness requirements, and managing editor Marty Thompson explained that assignments were based on "people's experience and that they're right for the assignment.
"Obviously, we're not going to send anyone who's in poor health."
Journalists also were being trained to use protective gear in the event of a chemical weapons attack, and the various combat pools - there are about seven - were being taken to the front in practice deployments.
The Washington (D.C.) Times' Hedges was in one of the first combat pools called up and wrote that the "event itself was fairly routine . . ."
Marc Lerner, Washington Times foreign editor, said as he understood it, the practice pools were going smoothly, although sending reporters out on dry runs was chewing up a tremendous amount of time. …