Gates defends tight Pentagon media rules

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday defended his decision to require military officials to receive Pentagon clearance for interviews and other media contacts.

Gates sought to ease concern that he would be clamping down on the media covering the military.

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In a memo issued last week, Gates required top-level Pentagon and military leaders to notify the office of the Defense Department’s assistant secretary for public affairs “prior to interviews or any other means of media and public engagement with possible national or international implications.”

At a press briefing on Thursday, Gates said that the missive “was not about how the media does its job, but about how this department's leadership does ours.”

The goal is to be effectively communicating with the media and ensure that those who speak to the press can speak with accuracy and authority.

“It is not a change of policy, but a reaffirmation of an existing policy that was being followed selectively at best,” Gates added.

Gates said the reason for the memo was because he was growing increasingly concerned that the Pentagon and military officials “have become too lax, disorganized and in some cases flat-out sloppy in the way we engage with the press.”

Gates said that too often personal views have been published as official government positions, and information that was “inaccurate, incomplete or lacking in proper context.”

Gates also decried the fact that reports and other documents, including on sensitive subjects, make their way to the press before he or the White House “know anything about them.”

“Even more worrisome, highly classified and sensitive information has been divulged without authorization or accountability,” Gates added.

Gates’ memo on the media rules was leaked just days after a controversial article in Rolling Stone Magazine led to the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan. The Pentagon has insisted that the tightening of the media rules had been in the works well before the McChrystal article was published.

Gates on Thursday said he was disappointed that he has had to lose “first-rate” people, including McChrystal, because of what the Defense Secretary called “their own missteps in dealing with the media.”