Military Denies It Rejects Embeds Based on Prior Coverage

By: Military commanders in Afghanistan are not rejecting requests from reporters who want to accompany U.S. troops in Afghanistan because their prior coverage of the military has been negative, the Pentagon said Monday.

The denial came after the newspaper Stars and Stripes reported that The Rendon Group, a Washington-based public relations firm with a controversial past, is screening work by journalists seeking ''embed'' assignments and giving them positive, neutral or negative ratings as part of a background profile.

Rendon disputed the newspaper's report, saying it does not rate work done by individual reporters or make recommendations on whether a particular journalist should be permitted to embed. The company said it does, however, grade how a subject is broadly covered by multiple media outlets.

''There is no policy that stipulates in any way that embedding should be based in any way on a person's work,'' Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

Rendon came under heavy criticism for its work before and during the Iraq war. Rep. Walter Jones, D-N.C., and other critics claimed Rendon was hired by the Pentagon to create an information campaign aimed at convincing the American public and members of Congress that Iraq was an imminent threat.

An investigation by the Defense Department inspector general found no evidence to support the allegations. But the classified review, completed in 2007 and made public in 2008, revealed how extensively the Pentagon has relied on Rendon for communications advice, analysis of media coverage, and training foreign governments in public relations.

Under a broad contract with U.S. military authorities in Afghanistan, Rendon gathers and assesses news coverage of operations there to provide them with a detailed picture of the ''media landscape,'' the company said.

A small part of the work involves preparing profiles of reporters preparing to travel with U.S. troops. These reviews are done only upon request and are intended to give commanders a better idea of what topics the reporters embedded with the unit are most likely to ask about, according to Rendon.

Rendon's role has troubled groups that represent reporters and teach journalism ethics. Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, a school in Florida for professional journalists, said it's understandable for a military commander to want to have a profile of a reporter who's traveling with his unit during military operations. But the choice of Rendon, she said, suggests that the profile is not just for general knowledge.

''It really is to give them the power to deny credentials to someone who might be too critical of their work,'' she said.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Forces Afghanistan in Kabul told Stars and Stripes that no reporter has been denied access as a result of Rendon's reviews.


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