Ombudsman blog archive

A case for the Guantanamo exemption

It has been a year now since the Defense Department announced restrictions on Stars and Stripes in the wake of the WikiLeaks affair, the epic breach of national security that this newspaper’s reporters and editors and nearly every other American alive had nothing to do with.

And yet they and a multitude of other Americans are being forced to pay the price by being told they must cede a measure of the most precious right after life itself — intellectual freedom.

A Step in the Right Direction on Openness

Identities of Defense contractors may no longer be concealed from public scrutiny without compelling justification under a “significant regulatory action” ordered by the Obama administration to increase transparency and accountability in all government spending.  

A proposed rule published in the Federal Register on Nov. 29, and echoed in a Dec. 16 Pentagon advisory to its legion of contract officers, would “strictly limit” and “discourage” identifying recipients of unclassified contracts as “miscellaneous foreign contractors.”

Exposure Of Information v. Exposure To Information

The government’s recent declassification of the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers corrects a 40-year mistake. But the motive may have had more to do with defending a current wrong than righting an old one.

Several months ago, the White House directed federal agencies to warn employees and contractors that viewing classified documents made public via WikiLeaks violated “applicable laws and…policies.”

A threat to press and academic freedom

UPDATE: The Pentagon has alerted me to a brief Associated Press article sent out late Tuesday afternoon reporting that the 7,000-page Pentagon Papers will now be declassified – four decades after they entered the public domain. That is welcome and long overdue news. But until the process is complete, it does not alter the concerns expressed in this column, which has been revised to reflect the development.

*   *   *

An affirmation of independence

Readers had an opportunity Dec. 27 to read a column on Stars and Stripes’ Op-Ed page
concerning newsgathering restraints recently issued by the government in the wake of a
WikiLeaks document dump.

They should have been able to read it a week earlier, on Dec. 20, the day before those
restrictions were rescinded and three days after I had publicized them Dec. 17 in an online version of that column, “Now comes don’t read, don’t tell.”

Joint statement from Publisher and Ombudsman

Following is a joint statement by Publisher Max Lederer Jr. and Ombudsman Mark J.
Prendergast, agreed to on Dec. 23, 2010, on the relationship between the newspaper and the position of independent Ombudsman. For background, see the related column, "An Affirmation of Independence."

It is agreed:

Reporting Restraints Eased

Defense Media Activity, the Pentagon agency that encompasses Stars and Stripes, has
withdrawn a memo that it sent out Dec. 10 limiting the ability of this independent news organization's professional journalists to fully do their jobs.

"The Security Advisory distributed on December 10, 2010, regarding WikiLeaks is hereby
rescinded," the DMA said today in a one-sentence e-mail distributed to all employees and contractors who operate under its aegis.

The sound of silence

2nd UPDATE: The column "Now comes don't read, don't tell" will not be published in tomorrow's (Tuesday's) editions. That's because the senior editor of Stars and Stripes, Terry Leonard, is still asserting authority over the ombudsman's work that goes beyond the "spelling and space" standard I was assured would be in place earlier today. I won't consent to publication until agreement on this point is reached. The integrity of the ombudsman's work is at stake, future as well as present. The column continues to be available to readers here.

1st UPDATE: The director of Defense Media Activity informed me by e-mail at 9:33 a.m. today that Stars and Stripes had told him that my column challenging new restraints on this newspaper's journalists would be published in tomorrow's (Tuesday's) editions. The director, Mel Russell, further informed me that he had been assured that my work would be edited for "spelling and space only."

Now comes don't read, don't tell

The editorial independence of Stars and Stripes and its readers’ right to news free of censorship are being threatened by an overly broad and misdirected response to the Wikileaks debacle.

Call it don’t read, don’t tell.

Interpreting the Pentagon's new media policy

The Pentagon tells me that it disputes my characterization of its new guidance on the release of information as one that will constrict the flow of news and information to the public and Congress.

I mentioned these rules in passing in this week’s column “Behind the media contractors’ veil” to offer context for the military’s practice of shielding the identities of some media-services contractors, including large U.S. firms, by designating them in public records as “miscellaneous foreign contractors.”

Ombudsman blog archive Archives

Ernie Gates

Stars and Stripes ombudsman

As a journalist for more than three decades, Ernie Gates has been a reporter, editor and news executive, including 10 years leading the enterprising print and digital newsroom of Tribune Co.’s Daily Press in Hampton Roads, Va.

News for and about service members, families and veterans has always been a key focus in Hampton Roads, where every branch of the armed services has a significant presence.

As vice president and editor, Ernie was responsible for all news, business, features and sports coverage and oversaw the editorial page. He also wrote the daily Feedback column, responding to readers’ questions and comments about coverage, news judgment, journalism ethics, taste and other issues. Representing the paper as a public speaker, he focused on News Values and Credibility.

He is a past president of the Virginia Press Association and a past chairman of Virginia Associated Press Newspapers. 

Since leaving the Daily Press in 2010, Ernie has stayed active in public affairs. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the Lewis B. Puller Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at the William & Mary Law School.  He is also serves on the Coalition Partners Advisory Panel of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

Ernie and his wife, Betsy, live in Williamsburg, Va. They have three adult children.

Ernie Gates can be reached at ombudsman@stripes.osd.mil or (202) 761-0587.

Follow ombudsman Ernie Gates on Twitter

The ombudsman

Congress created the post in the early 1990’s to ensure that Stars and Stripes journalists operate with editorial independence and that Stars and Stripes readers receive a free flow of news and information without taint of censorship or propaganda.

The ombudsman serves as an autonomous watchdog of Stars and Stripes’ First Amendment rights. Anyone who fears those rights are imperiled should alert the ombudsman.

The ombudsman is also the readers’ representative to the newsroom. Readers who think a journalistic issue or event was misrepresented or ignored or who feel complaints were not properly addressed by Stripes reporters or editors should contact the ombudsman.