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WASHINGTON — The nominee for the Pentagon’s top public affairs job promised Thursday he will review Defense Department policies to ensure that journalists are not being denied embeds with combat troops based on the tenor of their reporting, a practice exposed by Stars and Stripes last summer.
Douglas Wilson, who is expected to be confirmed as the new assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was opposed to rating reporters as “friendly” or “negative” when considering their applications to accompany U.S. combat troops, and will look into the matter when he takes over the post.
In written testimony presented before his nomination hearing, Wilson went even further, stating, “In my view, we should never be a party to efforts to place so-called ‘friendly reporters’ into embeds while blocking so-called unfriendly reporters.”
Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., posed the questions to Wilson while citing Stars and Stripes stories published in August that detailed the Defense Department’s contract with the Rendon Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm. The Rendon Group had been hired to review journalists’ embed credentials and was grading their past work as “positive,” “negative” or “neutral” for military officials.
Both Rendon and Pentagon officials at the time denied that the reporter profiles were used as a rating system to decide whether journalists should be granted embeds. But public affairs officers interviewed by Stars and Stripes acknowledged that they did use the memos to steer some reporters away from certain units and to refuse access to others.
Wilson agreed to Levin’s request to review the issue and ensure that no such profiling or editorial interference is still happening.
“[The department] has a long history of enabling news media representatives of all kinds — print, photo, TV and radio — to view the department’s operations first-hand, regardless of any perception that a particular reporter or his or her news product was ‘supportive’ or ‘non-supportive’ on a given military issue,” he wrote. “If confirmed, I fully intend to continue in this tradition.”
Officials in Afghanistan canceled the Rendon Group contract in late August after details of the profiling practices were made public, saying that the controversy had become a distraction to U.S. operations there.