Pentagon says new media rules are no “iron curtain”

WASHINGTON | Tue Jul 6, 2010 3:34pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon acknowledged on Tuesday confusion over new rules guiding the U.S. military’s engagement with the media but said they would not create an “iron curtain” curtailing reporters’ access at a crucial moment in the unpopular Afghan war.

The rules, issued by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a July 2 memo and first reported by the New York Times over the weekend, follow the June 23 firing of the top U.S. general in Afghanistan over an explosive Rolling Stone magazine article.

Pentagon officials said the rules were in the works long before the publication of the article about General Stanley McChrystal, in which he and top aides made disparaging remarks about President Barack Obama and his civilian advisers.

But they acknowledged that the McChrystal debacle was an example of what Gates, in his memo, called a “lax” approach to engagement with the media.

Under the new rules, U.S. military and civilian defense officials must contact Gates’ public affairs office “prior to interviews or any other means of media and public engagement with possible national or international implications.”

The Pentagon would be able to advise against engagements, officials said, raising concerns in the media that the rules would ultimately curtail access.

“It will not have a chilling effect. It will not be an iron curtain. It will not change substantially how people deal with the media,” said Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.

Lapan said his office was also working to address uncertainty within the U.S. military over the new rules.

Pentagon public affairs officials say the Defense Department was given virtually no advance notice about the McChrystal article, which resulted in the biggest military shake-up of Obama’s presidency.

In the article, McChrystal made belittling remarks about Vice President Joe Biden and the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke. His aides were quoted calling White House national security adviser Jim Jones a “clown.”

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Eric Beech)



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