'Odd Couple' makes effort to coexist.
So another effort has been made to somehow split the differences in a mutually workable manner, and the results were unveiled during the Friday afternoon session of NCEW's convention.
Entitled "America's team: The Odd Couple - A report on the relationship between the media and the military," the latest set of guidelines on this always-sensitive co-existence was produced by a partnership of two guys approaching the subject from the opposite poles.
Both were present at their work's unveiling, explaining their effort and aspirations to editorial writers for almost two hours following a tasty filet mignon luncheon in the Officers Club at Kelly Air Force Base.
Frank Aukofer, a career journalist for 35 years, is the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Washington, D.C., bureau chief. William P. Lawrence, retired U.S. Navy vice admiral, spent almost six years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam before becoming commander of the U.S. Third Fleet, assistant deputy chief of Naval operations, chief of naval personnel, and superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Introduced by John Seigenthaler, chair of The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the authors shared the dais with:
* Navy secretary John Dalton.
* Air Force secretary Sheila Widnall.
* Rear Admiral Kendell Pease, assistant public affairs officer in the officer of the assistant secretary of defense.
* Brigadier General Ronald T. Sconyers, public affairs director in the office of U.S. Air Force secretary.
* Major General William McClain Jr., chief of public affairs in the office of the U.S. Army secretary.
Underwritten by The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, the hefty book acknowledges the sometimes-conflicting purposes of the press and this country's military, but the work attempts once more to define the distinction in ways that improve mutual understanding and cooperation.
Crucial to the effort are recommendations for easing the access granted to news people reporting on military matters and refining the liaison between military public affairs officers and commanders in the field.
Implementation would include attendance by journalists at military training exercises and war colleges; acceptance of the theory that security for combat reporting would be established "at the source;" and eventual creation of a center where journalists and military representatives could further their attempts at nurturing mutual understanding. Mention was made of financing the center with grants from foundations.
At its most elemental, the new understanding finds the military asking that, when circumstances warrant full-scale news coverage, commanders in the field and at various HQs be amply alerted as to how many reporters, camera operators, and photographers will be arriving. News outlets are, in return, entitled to presume they won't be hampered or blind-sided by arbitrary or expedient barriers.
Without exception, the high ranking spokespersons present in San Antonio guaranteed their respective services are prepared to abide by the new guidelines.
At its more complex, the compact relies heavily on how it gets interpreted by those directly concerned. For instance, during the luncheon question-and-answer session, Chris Waddle from The Anniston Star in Alabama wondered aloud how much the new guidelines would assist reporters seeking access to local military bases.
He pointed out as explanation his difficulty in gaining entry to the Johnson Island atoll where chemical warfare agents are being experimentally destroyed, and to the Tooele Army Depot at Tooele, Utah, where such work ultimately will occur in the continental United States.
McClain briskly responded that Johnson Island isn't an Army operation. But Tooele is, Waddle added. (News reporters in Salt Lake City, 42 miles east of Tooele, generally agree that while a certain amount of rigmarole is involved - including a physical fitness report from a medical authority - access to the construction site of the new chemical weapons incinerator isn't overly difficult. The contractor offers tours of the project to civilians once a month.)
In summation, Seigenthaler acknowledged "breaches" would occur on both sides of this always prickly relationship. But, he asked, "don't let that get in the way of what's being attempted."