The Press Makes Its Pitch: Media Execs Meet with Department of Defense Officials to Come Up with New War Coverage Guidelines; February Deadline Set

By Gersh, Debra | Editor & Publisher, September 21, 1991 | Go to article overview

The Press Makes Its Pitch: Media Execs Meet with Department of Defense Officials to Come Up with New War Coverage Guidelines; February Deadline Set


Gersh, Debra, Editor & Publisher


The press makes its pitch

Leading U.S. media outlets and the Department of Defense have agreed to sit down and try to work out a set of ground rules governing press coverage of the nation's next military engagement.

The agreement is a direct result of media dissatisfaction with military press pools and restricted access in the Persian Gulf war.

Following the war, a group of 15 Washington bureau chiefs and editors sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney outlining their thoughts for improving coverage (E&P, May 11, P. 21).

That letter was followed by another signed by the chiefs of major news organizations, also asking for a meeting with Cheney.

That letter was accompanied by a report detailing specific instances of media problems, including the pool setups, the review of copy on the scene by military public affairs officers, time delays in transmitting copy and photos, and lack of access to troops (E&P, July 6, P. 7; July 13, P. 8).

On Sept. 12, Cheney met with Associated Press president and chief executive officer Louis D. Boccardi; Katharine Graham of the Washington Post; ABC News' Roone Arledge; David Laventhol of the Los Angeles Times; former American Society of Newspaper Editors president Burl Osborne of the Dallas Morning News; and Clark Hoyt, Knight-Ridder Washington bureau chief.

"We agreed that over the next few months there would be an effort [by the media and the Pentagon] to develop different ground rules for the next time out," Boccardi said of the meeting.

"This is not about the Pentagon looking at what happened and making its own report after interviewing the press," Boccardi said, referring to Pentagon reports that followed the Grenada and Panama invasions. "We don't think doing that again would have accomplished very much. This is an effort with the press on one side and the Pentagon on the other."

Boccardi noted that these talks will help "avoid next time what happened this time. It's a positive step . . . . I think we're better off trying to solve these problems this way, rather than walking away."

A self-created and self-imposed deadline of February was set for completion of the new rules, Boccardi explained, noting that the group set the term to avoid having the project be loose and open-ended. He also pointed out the importance of putting the rules in writing so they are followed at the field level.

A committee of Washington bureau chiefs and editors will work with Assistant Secretary of Defense/Public Affairs Pete Williams on the new rules.

Boccardi stressed, however, that input from other "groups or forces that want to be part of this effort" is welcome. …

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