An Open Letter

Article excerpt

Mr. Pete Williams Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Washington, D.C.

Dear Pete,

Thanks for asking for comment on the Defense Department's proposed rules for members of the national press pool, although I feel jilted after almost 10 years of courtship. The rules would eliminate some of us who have been members from the beginning.

You remember that the pool got started after news organizations complained about being shut out of the Grenada invasion in 1983. My paper, the Milwaukee Journal, was one of 26 newspapers included, and I've attended most of the pool meetings over the years.

Everybody believed the pool would work. It did in rehearsals, and it even worked when you shipped us to Saudi Arabia in August 1990. But it fell apart in Panama, and you guys did a masterful job of manipulating the combat pool system in the gulf war to control information.

I know what you're going to say: We had open coverage when the Marines landed in Somalia, and we acted like buffoons. But it's the old watchdog bit - you've got to expect some unnecessary barking and occasional dumping on the carpet.

Long before that incident, however, you'd put these new "Eligibility Criteria for News Media Membership in the National Media Pool" in the Federal Register. That's almost as good as passing a law.

Three provisions are masterfully done. The first says that pool members must agree to the ground rules and "any additional ground rules or procedures established by the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) or the appropriate military commander to meet the operational security requirements of a given mission."

That's smart. There's no way any of us would be able to wander off and cover any news except what you and the generals approve.

The second rule says that pool members are required "to maintain a Washington, D.C., staff of sufficient size to preclude compromising operational security when the pool is activated."

As a Washington bureau chief, I wholeheartedly support that one. Although you don't specify how big the bureau must be, I welcome the chance to expand my staff. I assume the DOD will propose a line item in the 1994 budget to reimburse us so we can maintain the proper size bureau. …