Pentagon denies vetting journalists in Afghanistan (updated).

Posted: 05 Sep 2009   Print   Send a link
"The U.S. military in Afghanistan has defended itself against accusations that a company it employs was rating the work of reporters and suggesting ways to make their war coverage more positive. 'Stars and Stripes,' a newspaper for U.S. troops, said it had obtained documents prepared for the U.S. military by the Rendon Group, a Washington-based communications firm that graded journalists' work as 'positive,' 'neutral,' or 'negative.' The newspaper, partly funded by the Pentagon but editorially independent, said the journalists' profiles included suggestions on how to 'neutralize' negative stories and generate favorable coverage. ... 'I've been here since June and we have never used any product from Rendon to rate specific journalists or to try and influence their reporting,' said Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, director of communications for U.S. Forces Afghanistan." Reuters, 28 August 2009. See also Stars and Stripes, 24 August, 27 August, 28 August, and 29 August 2009. And Frank Smythe, CPJ Blog, 28 August 2009.
     Update: "The Rendon Group has not screened, made decisions or recommendations with regard to who the military did or did not permit to conduct interviews or allow to embed. We assumed any reporters we were asked to research would be interviewing or embedding with the US Military. Apparently, as the USA Today pointed out, of the 143 requests to the 101st Airborne Division, only two were denied. Reportedly, the denials by the US Military were for inaccuracy and release of classified information, and both of those media outlets were later accepted. There is no evidence to support a charge that we directly or indirectly screened or contributed to the creation of a blacklist." Rendon Group statement, 3 September 2009.
     "The U.S. military is canceling its contract with a controversial private firm that was producing background profiles of journalists seeking to cover the war that graded their past work as 'positive,' 'negative' or 'neutral,' Stars and Stripes has learned. ... The one-year, $1.5 million contract was for a range of media analysis services beyond just the profiles and was just the latest contract for services it had provided the military for years. The company has a long history of contracting with the Defense Department and the CIA on controversial media projects." Kevin Baron, Stars and Stripes, 31 August 2009.
     "Reporters from numerous media outlets have obtained copies of their own Rendon profiles and learned details of how they were blacklisted or secretly managed by public affairs officers.
Freelancer Nir Rosen, who has reported downrange for Time and Rolling Stone, said military officials overseas nearly blocked his embed requests because profiles labeled him as an opponent of the Iraq war and warned that he might 'circumvent security and administrative restrictions in order to pursue other story angles'--charges he vehemently denied." Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes, 3 September 2009.
     "While the analysis of media coverage for tone – a common tool for corporations and organizations as well – was not denied by the agency or the military, both have condemned the suggestion that reporters were rejected for assignments to Afghanistan based on their individual coverage. 'We see what reporters want, try to accommodate them, and see what they publish – good and bad,' Wayne Shanks, chief of public affairs for International Security Assistance Forces, Afghanistan, told the Navy Times. 'The information is not used to determine whether an embed will be granted.' US military officials could not be reached for additional comment." Tonya Garcia, PRWeek, 4 September 2009.