Archive for Friday, July 9, 2010

Fort Leavenworth to continue media training program

July 9, 2010, 1:40 p.m. Updated July 9, 2010, 5:00 p.m.


— An Army general said Friday he doesn't foresee significant changes in a program that prepares mid-grade officers for dealing with the media in light of a Rolling Stone article that led to the dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Brig. Gen. Sean MacFarland, deputy commandant of the Army's Command and General Staff College, said that the incident with McChrystal is an isolated event and not indicative of problems with officers speaking too loosely with reporters.

"Obviously it sent a pretty big shock wave. I'm sure Gen. McChrystal didn't anticipate that," MacFarland said. "It's up to institutions like this to process that and make sure that our mid-grade officers out there understand what the implications are and equip them to deal in an environment of an unblinking media eye."

McChrystal was relieved of his command of forces in Afghanistan by President Barack Obama last month. McChrystal was replaced by Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, who led the 2007 surge of forces in Iraq after commanding Fort Leavenworth.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday he issued his order on media rules because of his concern that the military has become "too lax, disorganized and in some cases flat-out sloppy" in dealings with the press.

MacFarland said the military must continue to engage reporters and tell its story.

"We'll certainly encourage our officers to work with the media and will be teaching them how to do that, in light of the new guidelines," MacFarland said. "I think it probably makes that sort of media training more important than ever."

Officers studying at the command college are encouraged to interact with the media, conducting interviews with various outlets, and to contribute to a number of military blogs on a range of topics. MacFarland doesn't anticipate significant changes in directions for officers.

Besides training officers, Fort Leavenworth partners with the journalism school at the University of Kansas in a one-week seminar for military affairs reporters from across the country to bridge relations with the military.

Col. Steve Boylan, who spent three years serving as Petraeus' public affairs officer, is now teaching media to officers at Fort Leavenworth. Boylan said some in the military will use the Rolling Stone article as an example of the media wanting to "get" officers and cause them to avoid media engagements, while others will use it as a learning experience and improve their skills.

But he said the majority won't have an opinion and could be swayed easily to one side or the other.

"That's where I see our roles as leaders, mentors, instructors, public affairs officers, other senior leaders that get it to make sure they fall on the side it's OK to engage, it's good to engage, and oh, by the way, it's your responsibility as a leader to engage with the media," Boylan said. "Especially in a time of war and conflict."


Michael Throop 7 years, 10 months ago

I am pleased that Gen. McFarland is continuing the media training program, though I hope the College also continues to point out that the majority of reporters headed to assignments like this cut their teeth on the anti-American coverage in Vietnam, liberal bias that continues to this day. Rather than supporting our forces and pointing out the good work they do,the goal is to portray them as nothing more than rednecks and hicks headed into a war zone, intent on raping women and killing children. The ultra-leftists that took control of the mass media in the 1950s perfected this stuff in Vietnam and, all one has to do is to listen to "National Public Radio" to hear perfect examples of this libelous tripe. It is interesting that the Bush Administration got an hourly dose of vitrol for the liberation of Iraq, but your president, Mr. Obama, gets a pass in Afghanistan.

tbaker 7 years, 10 months ago

I'm a retired Army LTC-turned contractor. I've been in Afghanistan since January and happen to know from first-hand sources that the reporter in question was repeatedly told "off-the-record." He repeatedly responded with his assurance that he understood what he was witnessing was off the record. He was permitted this kind of access so he could get a "feel" for the inner workings of the senior ISAF staff, but not quote everything he heard. What this man mistook for disloyalty to the national leadership was the biting cynical banter which so often is how a high degree of esprit de corps and camaraderie in a small, tight-knit team manifests itself. His ignorance of military culture combined with his deceitful character were the root cause of what happened to GEN McChrystal and his team.

One should consider the degree of trust our military now shows to reporters. Clearly, the senior ISAF staff thought a new day of trust had in fact dawned with the forth estate. This trust blinded them to the most common of human failings: greed and vanity. I have to hand it to Mr. Hastings: He concealed his motives with surprising alacrity considering the audience upon which he perpetrated his fraud. The message is now clear: do not "trust" people from the media. The "bad old days" when the media and the military had an adversarial relationship was, in many respects, no accident. Reporters - just like this muckraker - created those conditions by breaking their word. Of course the military often did have something to hide, but in this case the onus is now on the reporters to repair the damage. Mr. Hastings has done no favors for his colleagues. I'd wager they despise him now more than the military does.

Since they broke it, the media needs to exert the majority of effort necessary to rebuild this relationship. They deserve to be shunned, and will be, as a natural consequence of this betrayal. We are now most definitely back to the day when media access to senior military leaders will be characterized by "Sir, I'd like to refer you to our Public Affairs Officer for some scripted vanilla talking points and boiler plate copy." I suppose it would be redundant to say the profession of journalism should be ashamed of itself.

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