At a press conference announcing his recommendation of Gen. Jim Mattis to lead U.S. Central Command today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates addressed the memo he recently issued regarding the military’s interactions with the media.
The memo, issued last Friday, requires top level military personnel to notify the public affairs office before interviews “with possible national or international implications.” It was issued in the wake of a Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, in which the general and his aides publicly trashed members of the Obama administration. McChrystal has since been relieved of his command.
Today, Gates denied that the new rules were a reflection of the Defense Department developing a mentality of the press as the enemy.
“This is not about you, this is about us,” Gates told reporters. “This is about us doing things in an uncoordinated way. It is about people in this department speaking out on issues where they don’t have all the facts, where they may not have the perspective.”
Gates said that stories in the press have been a “spur to action” to him and “one of the tools that I have in trying to lead this department and correct problems.” He and Adm. Mike Mullen argued that the memo was intended to remind soldiers about rules and discipline, not to limit press access.
“If you’re a captain in a unit that has an embedded reporter, as long as you’re within the guideline and the rules, we expect you to be open with that embedded reporter,” Gates said. “On the other hand, if you’re a captain in this building, working on budget options, I expect you to keep your mouth shut.”
And what did Gates think of the fact that his memo on stricter press relations was leaked to the press?
“That it was highly predictable,” he said.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com