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Meeting With DoD National Media Pool Bureau Chiefs

DPDASD PA Meeting With DoD National Media Pool Bureau Chiefs

NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense

DoD News Briefing
Richard McGraw, PDASD PA
Thursday, Jan. 10, 2002 - 10 a.m. EST

(Meeting with DoD National Media Pool bureau chiefs. Also participating were Navy Capt. Tim Taylor, director, DoD Press Operations, and Bryan Whitman, deputy director, DoD Press Operations. Three documents, all of which are available on the Web, were distributed at this meeting: (1) Selection for Secretary of Defense Trips at ; (2) Media Contacts for SecDef Travel at ; and (3) Media Contacts for DepSecDef Travel at )

McGraw: Good morning everyone. My name is Dick McGraw. Torie is tied up in meetings at the moment. She'll be down as quickly as she can. In the mean time she asked me to go ahead and get the meeting started.

I'm going to pass out some documents for you. It's the policies on selecting traveling media with the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary and the rotation schedules drawn by lot for both the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary trips. Make sure that you get one of each if that's what you want.

One of these is for the Deputy and one for the Secretary, so make sure you get one of each one.

Q: They're different?

McGraw: Yes, they are different. At the top it says Secretary or Deputy Secretary.


McGraw: I'll wait until those get passed around. You may have some questions about those.


McGraw: If we run out we will see that you get them. In fact we can make copies here while you're still here, if we don't have enough.


Q: Is this the universe based on interest expressed from this group?

McGraw: Yes. They reflect your input over a period of weeks, and a lottery drawing on the rotation, and I think everyone who expressed an interest in traveling is included.

If you have questions about that, Bryan [Whitman], who was involved, and Captain Taylor, both involved heavily in preparing those. I invite your questions now. As usual, if you'd identify yourself and your affiliation we would appreciate that.

Gerry Seib: Gerry Seib with the Wall Street Journal.

The significance of the order in which people are listed in the various categories is what?

McGraw: The order in which they will be traveling as trips come up.

Seib: So starting with the first trip you start at the top of each of these lists.

McGraw: Correct.

Carl Leubsdorf: Carl Leubsdorf. Domestic and foreign trips sort of all in together?

McGraw: All in together. We did decide to split the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary so that one wouldn't count against the other, so there are separate pools for that. But yes, domestic and foreign are lumped together.

Q: So a one-stop trip to St. Louis is the same as a five-day trip to the region.

McGraw: It is.

Matt Peter: Matt Peter from the Washington Post.

We're in a time now when there's a lot of interest in traveling with the Secretary, but what provisions are being made as we go down the road or things get quieter, and news organizations who don't normally on a regular basis travel with the Secretary, since they're on this list. Their time comes up and they decide they're going to opt out, what's the provision for that?

McGraw: I don't know that that's in writing yet, but if I can think out loud, my guess would be if one is offered an opportunity to travel and one doesn't with to, then that one goes to the bottom of the list and you simply go to the next one.

Taylor: That's in the memo.

McGraw: Thanks, Tim.

Peter: To the bottom of the list, or is this going to be reclassified as a different --

McGraw: We wouldn't reclassify them unless they asked to be reclassified.

Whitman: I suppose at any time you could, as a news organization, could say we're no longer interested in traveling with the Secretary and we'd take you off the list. Just as some of you in here have indicated that we're not interested in traveling with the Secretary at this time but maybe at a later date we'll raise our hand and then I'll put you onto the list, you'll be added onto the bottom of the list, and as you come up through the rotation you'll get an opportunity to travel.

So if at some point in time your news organization decides that you no longer want to travel we'll remove you from the list. If you want to stay on the list but you don't want to travel on that particular trip you just take a bye and go to the bottom of the list.

Q: Say you're on a trip and one or two of the networks decide they're not going to go on a trip, who fills those, what procedure is established for that?

Whitman: If you look at page three, if there were more than 13 seats or if there were less, or if there were -- How do I want to say this. If there were not enough takers, of course, the plane wouldn't be full. If there are more than 13 seats then we would go back to the paragraph five there where on a unique situation Ms. Clarke would make the decision on seats beyond 13.

Clark Hoyt: Clark Hoyt from Knight Ridder.

I think the question is if later as interest seems to wane among some news organizations and members of a category don't fill all their seats but there are other people in other categories that have been and remain committed to traveling full time, what are you going to do?

McGraw: It seems to me that if a group, if all the people in a category have been offered to travel and they don't want to travel and there are still seats available, we'd come up with some way to identify other people in other categories who did want to travel, possibly. I can't see why they wouldn't do that, so long as there are seats available.

Q: In the input process before you did this I made a suggestion that it was half adopted here, which was that if someone doesn't travel they dropped to the bottom of the rotation. The other half of the suggestion was that if they declined to travel twice they dropped out all together. They're just dropped from it.

Would you entertain that again?

McGraw: Did we?

Whitman: Yes, I mean your comments were noted and considered. At this point that's not part of the policy, though.

David Shipman: David Shipman from the Boston Globe. I would object to that.

McGraw: Other questions?

Toby Black: Toby Black from UPI. I just wanted to say again, to request that we be considered in the wire service category rather than the rotating wire service category.

Q: On page three, Sandy [...take skip...].

On page three, if there are five seats or less available, all products of the traveling media will be pooled with the DoD national media pool. Does that mean that you will pool, that you will make the material available on the national media web site which hasn't been used, but is available? Unlike with the pools in Kandahar which the Pentagon did not distribute pool material.

Whitman: You raise a question that isn't covered in this, and I think we need to take a look at that. We haven't fully addressed that, but we haven't had any trips lately where we've had five or less seats either, so that would be a unique situation and we'd have to address how we would provide those pool products.

Robin Sproul: Robin Sproul from ABC.

I know we'll probably need to take this up with you all later and separately, but we see added to the TV network television list C-SPAN, which I'm not aware if they have a full time coverage present, I don't think they have a correspondent, or are qualified to even be a member of the DoD national media pool. We had not anticipated that they would be added to that group.

Voice: Okay.

Owen Ullman: Owen Ullman from USA Today.

I applaud you for putting together a predictable, fair system and I think it's going to be a huge improvement over fighting each time at least regarding these times when there's a lot of interest in traveling with the Secretary.

My primary concern though is that the allotment of seats seems to discriminate against the large newspaper category in this sense. I think that every other category people will be traveling as much or perhaps even more than they had before, while for the major newspapers, assuming everyone wants to go on these trips, major newspapers will actually be going on fewer trips than we did before so there seems to be a penalty in this in terms of the odds of being able to go on the trips. I consider that unfair and would urge you to again, looking at who went on previous trips, to consider readjusting.

McGraw: It will be noted, Owen. As you know, Ms. Clarke made a strong commitment to being as fair as possible while at the same time recognizing and honoring those who have exhibited a long term commitment to covering the Pentagon pre-September 11th. That was part of it as well, but we do have your note so we'll discuss it.

Q: I'm Sara Fritz with the St. Pete Times. It makes sense that if you're going to open it up, some people who have been traveling more frequently are not, are going to be traveling less frequently. That would just be the basic element of fairness.

McGraw: Right.

Voice: If I could respond, I don't believe that's true for the wires or the networks, and in some cases small newspapers, some of them may be traveling more where they were shut out constantly.

Q: Right. That's the point of this, I think.

Voice: No, the point was to have some kind of fair system. If it discriminates against one group of people who had invested in traveling a lot, and will actually travel less now when the demand is greatest but briefest, then it seems to discriminate against that group. You can just run the numbers.

Q: But these people were traveling, I'm sorry to be -- These people were traveling more because the smaller newspapers were totally aced out of it. So --

McGraw: If you open up and broaden it to be more fair, clearly those who traveled more in the past will not be able to travel as much.

Q: Is that true of the wires? Is that true of TV?

McGraw: The decision was made on the wires that if there are only three seats then the wires, you have to --

Voice: I think some of the wire news organizations, for example, Tobin just raised the issue once again, as he has articulated many times, I think they believe they would be traveling less, yes.

[tape skip] had to take into account everybody's concerns and issues and [tape skip] predictable as possible.

McGraw: I think it's probably impossible to make it absolutely fair and perfect, and something that is, that totally satisfies everyone. I'm not trying to make excuses, but I think we have a system that clearly satisfies the major need, albeit there may be some who feel that it doesn't totally satisfy their needs.

Q: Can I ask how frequently the Secretary has traveled in the last four months?

McGraw: Probably, I'm thinking off the top of my head, but half a dozen trips?

Voice: Two to three times a month depending, if you're counting the domestic and overseas.

The next trip, for example, that's currently on the calendar is a trip over to Germany for a couple of days the first part of February. There may be a trip to (inaudible) between now and then.

Q: After Germany?

Voice: No, between now and then there may be a trip within the United States, between now and then. But it's very tentative.

Carl Leubsdorf: Carl Leubsdorf with the Dallas Morning News.

As one who is in the small newspaper by choice, not the large newspaper category, I just want to second what Owen says. It seems to me that even though Agence France Press has traveled a lot, they serve virtually no domestic clients, and the newspapers on the list that through their news services serve dozens if not hundreds of American domestic newspapers and other clients, and that ought to count for more than is counted for in this rotation.

McGraw: Well, we're trying to satisfy not only your needs but our needs as well. The international audience is important to us as well as the domestic audience.

Leubsdorf: But that doesn't mean to exclude them entirely. The problem is that we don't have wire -- I grew up in wire service, with the AP for many years. There was an AP and a UPI and they both served a lot of domestic and international clients, and Reuters did to some degree too. The problem is we have only one wire service that really serves a large number of domestic news clients, and that's the AP, so it really is stepped down after you leave the AP. I don't know how many domestic broadcast and newspaper clients, something like Agence France Press does. I don't think I know how many UPI serves. But, and [are] in the same class with AP or even Reuters.

Francis Kohn: Francis Kohn from AFP. I'm not going to go back to this (inaudible) we have. I'm glad to see that today we have a story with Jim Mannion's byline in the Washington Times and also in the International Herald Tribune. We said before, we are not in the same league as AP on domestic market. We have some clients though. But obviously we are a big player worldwide, huge clients in Middle East, Asia. You name it. Europe and so on.

So I am not here to say why the decision was made, but obviously that took into account our global reach.

McGraw: I want to give us adequate time for venting and discussing, airing, but we are not at this point considering going back and making changes in the decision. We consulted with you for months, if you will, before this was done. So consider this locked in soft concrete, if you will. I wouldn't say that it's epoxy hardened yet, but I think it's well set on the way for doing that. Unless there is something really, really, really terribly wrong with it, and I don't think there is.

Ullman: Can I make another suggestion? I do want to emphasize that I really think this is a huge improvement over what we've had before, the lack of predictability.

One suggestion to consider is obviously now there's tremendous interest by a lot of news organizations in traveling with the Secretary. There will be lulls and there will be trips where people may not want to go because it doesn't seem worth it. This goes back to Clark's point, and I know the State Department is doing something similar, and I believe they're implementing this, which is that if a news organization turns down two or three trips in a row they are bumped from the rotation.

The reason for this and I think you should consider it is that during the lulls fewer organizations are willing to make the investment. According to Torie's note, one of the criteria are that there's a long term commitment to covering the Pentagon. And I think those news organizations that are willing to travel and pay the expense when news is not as precious a commodity should be given some duly noted advantage and perhaps over a six month or one year period you might want to call the list so that those who will travel during big news and low news times would be having priority for those previous [tape skip].

McGraw: We did consider if you decline more than twice drop them off as we discussed, and decided not to incorporate that. However, your suggestion of reviewing the list on an occasional basis to review everybody's participation and revising the list perhaps is probably a reasonable thing to do.

Shipman: David Shipman of the Boston Globe. Asserting my self interest as boldly as Owen has asserted his, I just want to say that I object to Owen's viewpoint because it's not in our interest and it is in his. (Laughter)

McGraw: Okay.

Q: That's why you're such a good political writer.

McGraw: Are there other things? Yes.

Whitman: If I can just make one comment before we leave this, if we can leave this, I don't know.

The points of contact and the telephone numbers that I've put on here, most of them you sent to me in e-mails, a couple of them I had to guess on. So if you don't want that to be your first point of contact, and I have alternates from all of you, I think, or most of you, in your e-mails. But if for some reason I put somebody down as the primary point of contact or inadvertently got the wrong initials, contact phone number wrong, please let me know. Just drop me an e-mail or see me after the meeting or whatever and I'll take care of it for you.

McManus: Doyle McManus from the LA Times.

In the environment we're talking about this now when everyone has high interest in getting on every trip it is a straightforward conflict of self interest between someone on the small list and someone on the large list, or any of us on the large print list and any broadcast or news agency that gets a guaranteed seat. Just to reiterate the obvious, this is a system that gives a one-to-one chance of going on a trip to any European owned news agency that has applied; it gives a one in three chance of getting on to any television organization; and a one in nine chance of getting no to any major print organization. That's what it says.

Prospectively, which is I think a reasonable thing to discuss here, it will be worth thinking about what we do in an environment where people's interests diverge because paradoxically three months from now you could have a situation where very few of these small print organizations want to go and therefore if there are two small print organizations that have a high level of interest they will have perhaps two or three times the statistical chance of getting on a trip than any of the nine major organizations that still have a high level of interest.

So this is a rotation that makes arguable sense. I don't agree with it, but it makes arguable sense. It's a fine piece of work for this environment. But I think fairly soon it won't make as much sense.

McGraw: The environment will change, no doubt. The nature of the war will change, no doubt. And as those changes occur, perhaps this may have to change as well. I won't commit to it that it does or doesn't, but it's possible that it might have to, and we'll be open to that.

Q: Sara Fritz, St. Petersburg Times.

I just want to make, it may be obvious somewhat, but in this context I think it's necessary. If you were to take a snapshot of this after a month or maybe let's say four months, and somebody had declined two trips and they had been trips to God knows where, some uninteresting place.

Q: Missoula, Montana.

Q: Where he's making a political speech or something, that would seem to me quite unfair, which is why you need to wait for quite a long time before you reassess that because obviously what we're interested in primarily is to take the good foreign trips where it's good policy issues that --

Voice: It makes sense to me.

Q: Does that count as an admission against interest?

Q: I'm speaking for my own interest.

McGraw: Are there other things we can chat about today?

Tammy Kupperman: I'd like to raise Guantanamo. Tammy Kupperman from [NBC].

There are a number of reporters sitting in Guantanamo now, and I think they're about to board a plane prior to the arrival of detainees, which should be fairly shortly. Is there any way that we can get this group of reporters to remain in Guantanamo?

McGraw: There are 20 reporters I believe in Guantanamo now that were taken down I think yesterday by SOUTHCOM who has, I understand, a list of some 300 or so reporters who want to visit Guantanamo. Those taken in were taken in with the understanding that they would go in yesterday and come out today. Of course everyone knew that eventually, or sooner or later there would be detainees arriving at Guantanamo. However, notwithstanding their knowledge that it was supposed to be in and out, in one day and out the next day, notwithstanding when detainees may or may not arrive, we are looking at the possibility, and that's one of the things Torie is meeting on right now, as to whether those 20 who are there -- media that is -- might be able to stay another day. We hope to have an answer on that later on this morning perhaps, maybe early this afternoon. I know the plane's not due to leave until 1:00 o'clock or 3:00 o'clock. 1:00 o'clock. So we'll certainly have an answer before then.

It will be an assertive answer, not just let it happen. A decision will be made.

Q: Francis Kohn from Agency France Press.

Again for that trip to Guantanamo, how was the selection done? On which criteria? We have been trying since the first day. We are not in it. So speaking for my agency, of course. Why those 20? Why not other? Are you going to have a rotation? Why not a pool?

McGraw: We were not involved. We, OSD PA was not involved in the selection of the 20 people. Ron Williams, the public affairs director for SOUTHCOM in Miami had the list and drew up his own criteria and made his own selection and made his own decision as to whether there would be a regional pool or whether he would have unilaterals, and it was his decision, I believe, to have a continuous stream of unilaterals, day after day after day after day until everybody was satisfied. I believe that was his decision.

Q: The one that you have for the Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary, a certain kind of criteria, and why don't you apply them more generally?

McGraw: I suppose we could do that, but gee, every region of the world is different and the requirements are different, and the regional media are different. I think it would be very difficult to establish national standards or national criteria by which regional public affairs officers select media for a regional pool. I think we've got to leave some discretion to local management.

Q: Are you going to have the rotation for Guantanamo?

McGraw: Are we going to have a rotation for Guantanamo?

Q: The Southern Command.

McGraw: The Southern Command intends to have rotations for Guantanamo, yes.

Q: How is that going to be organized in terms of rotation for Guantanamo?

McGraw: I don't know. I'd have to get Ron Williams, as I say, the public affairs director for SOUTHCOM, to give you that. We might be able to get that. We can talk about whether we can get that and make it available up here.

Voice: I'd just encourage anybody to give him a call.

McGraw: Absolutely. Do we have his number handy?

Q: There have been a number of inquiries to our local bureau, Baltimore, Louisville, Miami, about upcoming trips and did we want to go and the answer is yes. But is there a way --

McGraw: Upcoming trips?

Q: For there to be a list available at the Pentagon about what opportunities are upcoming.

McGraw: For anywhere by anybody? I'm not sure I understand.

Q: We got these three separate requests all through our local bureaus, and there were local bases that were making the inquiries. Did we want to go with the 101st Airborne?

McGraw: Oh, okay.

Q: Yes, we did. We didn't necessarily want to send our Louisville correspondent, though. So I'm wondering, can you make available the list of opportunities that exist to send reporters with military units?

McGraw: It's impossible, only because we have no idea what they are. We happen to know about 101st, but I don't know what's next or where it's going to be or how many media they might or might not be able to take with them. There's no way that our shop can function as a clearinghouse, if you will, for media travel DoD-wide. It's just --

Q: They don't clear those through the Pentagon, through your office?

McGraw: That's correct. They do not.

Q: Central Command (inaudible) for the region.

Q: For what region?

McGraw: Yeah, for what region.

Q: For Central Asia.

McGraw: For Central Asia, yes.

Q: But not Guantanamo.

McGraw: Not Guantanamo.

Q: Southern Command.

McGraw: Southern Command, right.

Q: Is this trip the thing that I talked to you beforehand where we had an interest in a group, a TV station and a group from Fort Campbell and the Army was handling it --

McGraw: The Army is handling --

Q: So each specific service handles each specific deployment?

McGraw: Usually that is the case, yes. The 101st deployment is an Army operation being handled by the Army including Army Public Affairs, and they know how many media they can take and embed with the 101st. Yeah, they're handling that.

Ron Williams, Southern Command, (305) 437-1213.

Q: [tape skip]

McGraw: We never had a commitment to do daily operational briefings at the Pentagon, to the best of my knowledge.

Q: The Secretary gave it to us.

Q: He said if you want daily briefings --

McGraw: You're right. You know, you're absolutely right. I do remember. Excuse me. I had a --

Q: No, he promised hollow briefings.

Q: And he delivered.

Q: So there's been no change in the policy. (Laughter)

McGraw: Some days are heavier briefings than others. Today, for example, he's having the Australian MOD, having a media availability, and while it's not a formal briefing, it will count as the briefing today.

Q: And yesterday there was no operational briefing.

McGraw: There have been occasional days where there was simply nothing to brief on. And we just didn't have a briefing. But those are rare, the days are occasional. But we have not backed off from the policy. We're not trying to back down to two days a week or anything like that.

Q: [tape skip] What are the prospects of using the pool any time soon?

McGraw: If an occasion arises where we feel it's appropriate to energize the national media pool we will do so. We don't think one has arisen yet. We are prepared to activate the national media pool when the need arises.

Q: Just from your understanding of things, would you guess that a pool would be activated say in the next three months? (Laughter)

McGraw: If I knew that --

Q: -- your interest? Are you in the rotation? (Laughter)

McGraw: If I knew that I would know exactly where to put my money in the stock market, assuming I had any to do it with. But no, I have no idea. No idea.

Q: Don't cancel your vacation.

Dave Cook: Dave Cook from Christian Science Monitor.

We just got out of the rotation [tape skip]. Given the variety of circumstances we've been through in the last several months, and that the pool hasn't been called now, what kind of conceivable circumstances would trigger a pool, the national pool? Can you give a generic description of what that hasn't occurred in the last three months that --

McGraw: No, I really can't, unless I go back and look at history and what triggered the activation of the national media pool in the past, and who can predict whether any one of those scenarios is likely to arise? Afghanistan did not present that kind of scenario.

There are so many variables that go into whether it's appropriate to activate the national media pool, including the availability of local Western press in the region, the availability of transportation. I can't give you a scenario.

Q: You're not considering doing away with it.

McGraw: No, we're not considering doing away with it at all, no. No, no. In fact we're looking into, we're trying to upgrade the satellite communications equipment that is presently inoperative.

Q: Guantanamo?

McGraw: It seems unlikely since there are 20 people in and out and on a rotational basis. It seems unlikely.

Now Ron Williams may decide to do a regional pool. That would be up to him.

Q: [take skip] previous meetings there had been described a sort of shuttle system that would move reporters from Bahrain to Kabul, Kandahar and Bagram. Is that operational? We're being told in Bahrain that they know nothing about it.

McGraw: It was Quigley's idea. He touched base with the media in country and in the region, around the country, and came back and said I can't find a whole lot of interest in doing this, I think we ought to scrap it.

Q: Can I ask the table? Is no one else interested in this?

Q: Yes, I indicated interest through Admiral Quigley.

(Multiple voices)

McGraw: Most of the people that he touched base with in the region indicated a lack of interest. What I'm hearing from you is something perhaps different than what your folks in the field told Quigley. Do you recall the same thing?

Q: [take skip] where we have no one at the moment, but if there was some kind of a system, a shuttle system, we would use that to get people -- It would be helpful to get people in and out.

Q: It's dangerous to drive, we're all finding out.

McGraw: It's dangerous to drive. Of course it's difficult to find aircraft as well. And absent an overwhelming desire or need, it's unlikely just to make an airplane available in case anybody wants to. But if there was continued interest on a regular basis then his plan was to go from one to two to three and make a loop once a week or something like that.

Q: Can I suggest you send us an e-mail about that, maybe to more formal --

McGraw: Sure.

Q: -- query on that. We could check with our people in the field to get their sentiment and get back to you about whether --

McGraw: Sure. We'll raise it again with Quigley.

Seib: Gerry Seib again.

I would second that because I think what people have found is the country has opened up, but at the same time travel between cities remains fairly dangerous if we do it on our own. So I think the situation may be more ripe for what Craig was talking about now than perhaps when he first raised it.

McGraw: Okay. We'll raise it again.

Anything else folks? I'm sorry Torie didn't make it down, but I know what she's doing. I know she would have been here if she could have been.

Q: Thank you.

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