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ARLINGTON, Va. — Under fire following revelations that a military command in Afghanistan is compiling profiles of reporters covering U.S. military operations, Pentagon officials acknowledged Thursday that they were reviewing the practice even as they maintained that they were not making use of “positive,” “negative” and “neutral” grades assigned to reporters’ work by a Pentagon contractor.
“For me, a tool like this serves no purpose and it doesn’t serve me with any value,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters as some of the affected war correspondents began demanding to see their secret military profiles.
Whitman told Pentagon reporters that he was inquiring about the issue, but he added that the Pentagon is not launching any formal inquiry to the matter.
“I haven’t seen anything that violates any policies, but again, I’m learning about aspects of this as I question our folks in Afghanistan,” Whitman said. “If I find something that is inconsistent with Defense Department values and policies, you can be sure I will address it.”
Meanwhile, officials with U.S. Forces-Afghanistan acknowledged Thursday that the media profiles do exist, but they maintained that no favorability ratings are compiled.
“USFOR-A has only used this information to in part help assess performance in communicating information effectively to the public,” USFOR-A spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks told Stars and Stripes in an e-mailed statement. “These reports do not ‘rate’ reporters or news outlets themselves, nor do we keep any reports on individual reporters other than personal information, name, passport or ID number, media outlet, etc….”
Shanks also contended that the compiling of the reporters’ profiles was halted in May of this year.
But those claims run counter to the actual media profiles, the existence of which Stars and Stripes revealed earlier this week. The profiles contain ratings and pie charts purporting to depict whether an individual reporter’s work is “positive,” “negative” or “neutral,” as well as advice on how best to place a reporter with a military unit to ensure positive coverage and “neutralize” negative stories.
One Pentagon correspondent who requested and received her profile on Thursday said it included her current work up through July.
Whitman said he was continuing to inquire about the issue with media affairs operations downrange in Afghanistan and said that his team has never requested such profiles of reporters.
Stars and Stripes first reported on Monday about the existence of the reporter profiles, which are being compiled under a $1.5 million Pentagon contract granted to The Rendon Group, a controversial Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm that previously helped the Bush administration makes its case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Whitman has said repeatedly since Monday that the Rendon profiles were never used to determine whether a journalist’s request to embed with U.S. forces would be approved or denied. But it remains unclear whether military commanders in Afghanistan have ever acted on Rendon’s suggestions about how best to steer journalists toward “positive” coverage.
Military officials have also said that the Rendon profiles are only used to measure a reporter’s accuracy. None of the actual profiles reviewed by Stars and Stripes, however, address questions of accuracy.