The Defense Department on Friday hit the one-year mark of not offering an on-camera briefing by a top spokesperson, adding to friction between the Pentagon press corps and defense officials.
The lack of on-camera briefings, a practice that used to be routine, comes at a time of mounting national security concerns as the Trump administration deploys more military personnel and assets to the Middle East to counter Iran.
The tensions with Iran prompted the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group, bomber task force and 900 additional U.S. troops, but no official has gone on camera in the briefing room to explain the decision or to take questions.
Two top Pentagon officials briefed reporters on the deployments on-the-record last Friday, but did so off camera.
Journalists and other proponents of on-cameras briefings argue it is important for spokespeople and military officials to go on camera in order to be held accountable by the American people.
Critics of President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE have suggested the on-camera briefings were curtailed to avoid provoking the ire of the president, who is an avid TV watcher, if they say something that contradicts him.
As the anniversary of the last on-camera briefing came Friday, the Pentagon defended its record of engagement with the press.
“The Department of Defense is committed to transparency to the media and the public,” Pentagon spokesman Tom Crosson said in a statement. “Since January, the department has facilitated numerous on- and off-camera press engagements on a variety of topics, in addition to written press statements, social media posts, and other products made available on defense.gov.”
Crosson cited the fact that reporters accompany acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanSenators introducing bill to penalize Pentagon for failed audits Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee Biden Pentagon pick could make up to .7M from leaving Raytheon MORE during overseas trips, where he has “provided multiple on the record and on-camera briefings to the traveling press corps.”
“The Pentagon remains one of the only government facilities that allows nearly unrestricted access to the building for hundreds of credentialed journalists,” Crosson added. “Journalists also have 24-7 access to a team of press officers to assist with their defense-related questions.”
Shanahan, who has been nominated as Defense secretary, has pledged to revive on-camera briefings if he is confirmed by the Senate.
Shanahan spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Buccino told The Hill earlier this month that while defense officials “have not determined a schedule or rhythm, routine on-camera briefings as well as off-camera gaggles will resume, should Acting Secretary Shanahan be confirmed by Congress.”
In addition to on-camera briefings, once-regular off-camera gaggles that had been held for Pentagon reporters on a weekly basis have dropped off since late last year.
While officials have stopped briefing on-camera, reporters have been invited to the briefing room for celebrity appearances. In October, Gerard Butler participated in a 32-minute press conference to promote his submarine film “Hunter Killer.”
And earlier this month, Kiss frontman Gene Simmons and his wife, Shannon Tweed, attended a veterans’ event at the Pentagon, with Simmons giving a speech in the briefing room.
The Pentagon announced Thursday that the briefing room will be closed for a week to replace the carpets and do other maintenance work.