Secrecy News Extract: Pentagon Tries Media Control

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PENTAGON SEEKS “COORDINATION” OF MEDIA ACTIVITIES

The Department of Defense last week increased its efforts to require that Department contacts with the media be monitored and approved by DoD public affairs officials.

Secrecy News Comment:

As a practical matter, the degree of control over DoD contacts with the media sought by the Pentagon may be impossible to achieve.  The Department is too large (with millions of employees), too decentralized (with thousands of locations) and, perhaps, too open (with hundreds of reporters holding building permits at the Pentagon alone) to allow rigorous monitoring or “coordination” of more than a fraction of all external contacts and communications.

And though it may not be convenient for Pentagon officials to say so, almost everyone understands that freedom of the press means something more, and something different, than reproducing authorized government releases.  Unauthorized disclosures — even incomplete or partially inaccurate ones — often serve a valuable public policy function, at least when they do not trespass on legitimate secrets, because they enable reporters and others to develop an independent account of events and to generate a more complete public record.  When the short-term institutional interests of the Pentagon or other U.S. government agencies lead them to overclassify or otherwise impede public access to information, unauthorized and “uncoordinated” disclosures help to fill the void.

Phi Beta Iota: This is an excellent example of trying to do the wrong thing better.  Epoch B is here to stay.  The Pentagon would be better off doing the right things righter, e.g.  reducing secrecy, increasing sharing with multinational allies both military and civilian, and generally seeking to win the moral high ground before it partakes of any more optional invasions.