Gates Opens: Pentagon Chief Says ‘Press Not the Enemy’

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By: E&P Staff

Top officials in the Bush administration, including the president and vice president, have often been critical of press coverage of the military and the Iraq conflict. But on Friday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in a commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy said the following.

“Today I want to encourage you always to remember the importance of two pillars of our freedom under the Constitution: the Congress and the press. Both surely try our patience from time to time, but they are the surest guarantees of the liberty of the American people. The Congress is a co-equal branch of government that under the Constitution raises armies and provides for navies. Members of both parties now serving in Congress have long been strong supporters of the Department of Defense and of our men and women in uniform.

“As officers, you will have the responsibility to communicate to those below you that the American military must be nonpolitical and recognize the obligation we owe the Congress to be honest and true in our reporting to them, especially when it involves admitting mistakes or problems.

“The same is true with the press, in my view a critically important guarantor of our freedom. When it identifies a problem, as at Walter Reed, the response of senior leaders should be to find out if the allegations are true, as they were at Walter Reed, and if so, say so, and then act to remedy the problem. If untrue, then be able to document that fact. The press is not the enemy, and to treat it as such as self-defeating.

“As the founding fathers wisely understood, the Congress and a free press, as with a nonpolitical military, assure a free country — a point underscored by a French observer writing about George Washington in 1782. He wrote, ‘This is the seventh year that he has commanded the army and that he has obeyed the Congress. More need not be said.'”

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