Clarke Meeting with DoD National Media Pool Bureau

Published: Fri 14 Dec 2001 11:45 AM
ASD PA Clarke Meeting with DoD National Media Pool Bureau Chiefs
NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense
DoD News Briefing
Victoria Clarke, ASD/PA
Thursday, December 13, 2001
(Meeting with DoD National Media Pool bureau chiefs. Handouts distributed at the meeting are on the Web at )
Clarke: Let's get started. I thought I'd do a couple of things, and you've got the attachments. Most of you had already seen the memo I sent out last week on the 6th apologizing for the screw-ups and giving you a sense of the steps we were going to take, had taken, to try to address them.
Just an update on that, let's leave the media selection for awhile. If you go to near the end of your package here, "The Way Ahead in Afghanistan." They're coming around.
We have made some progress in terms of facilitating media in Afghanistan, our primary interest, obviously. Such as the coalition press centers in Bagram and Mazar-e Sharif are up and running. The one in Bagram has more people, it has five people, probably will have more. Mazar-e-Sharif I think right now has two.
There are, if you look at this, there are some interesting things going on in Bagram and Mazar-e Sharif. I know everybody's primarily interested in what's going on with the Marines down in the south, but there are some pretty interesting things going on in both areas. And as you'll see, behind that page we have contact names and numbers -- for you, for your people -- to try to facilitate some of that.
My strong recommendation is that as a starting point, so many of your correspondents really have already started to make the inroads, get in there, those sorts of things. Jeff Alderson is very good and very helpful; and Major Winchester at NavCent in terms of logistics, who's on what list, who's getting on what planes in and out of Bahrain, things like that.
On the second page of that, if you're specifically interested in Bagram and Mazar-e Sharif, start with Lieutenant Colonel Bonnie Herbert who's in Kuwait. Those are two very good places to start.
Again, I want to emphasize a lot of your people who are over there in the region have already started to make these sorts of in-roads. Some people are just showing up, for instance, in Bagram. We help them out when they appear on the doorstep.
Q: (inaudible)
Clarke: If you're interested in Bagram, Mazar-e Sharif, that's a good place to start.
Q: -- find out where they are in Mazar-e Sharif?
Clarke: Right. And what's going on, what sorts of things. Craig's tried to give us a sense, on the page called "The Way Ahead in Afghanistan", on number four and number five there of the kinds of activities that are going on right now or are about to be happening. Bonnie, for instance, and Jeff Alderson can give you an even more up to date sense of the activity.
Q: [Sandy Johnson] Do you have numbers for the people who are actually there?
Clarke: No, because they've got an Iridium satellite phone and it gets very complex. We hope to have sometime soon, as they improve communications, e-mail capability. But Jeff and Bonnie are the ones who are really doing the bulk of the logistics.
Our main challenge continues to be transportation. We're working hard to improve that. But for instance if somebody is in or near Bagram, we can help them out. We can't physically get them there now, but if they are in or near Bagram we can help them out. The same thing with Mazar-e Sharif.
Q: So how do we find them? If we have to do there, how do we go about finding them?
Clarke: Call Bonnie, call Jeff.
Q: (inaudible)
Clarke: We are working on a shuttle service. We are trying to get a plane, a C-130 dedicated just to this. Craig's theory is that it would act almost as a shuttle service, literally. Come out of Bahrain, go to the three points, just keep shuttling around. Dropping people off, picking people up, those sorts of things. So we are trying to make that happen.
Q: Right now with Iridium phones people are having trouble contacting Bagram so that's probably --
Clarke: That's probably why, yeah.
Q: [Bob Pearson] On number seven, is there a rough time frame of when you hope to have this?
Clarke: No. We hope to have it soon. But no. I'll keep you up to date on that.
And coming out of Bahrain right now, Thursday, we're taking another 12 into Rhino.
Q: Is the pool that's in there now coming out?
Clarke: The pool that is in there now, the last time we checked last night, is going to stay. It's going to stay. General Mattis agreed to make arrangements so they could stay.
Q: When you expand to 12 will it still be pool? At what point are you going to cease that?
Clarke: For now it is, and actually you guys can give us some advice here. My sense is that when we can get a better flow of transportation going then that's the time to break out of the pool status. But you guys tell me. The goal and the intent is to keep moving towards that because we don't like pools any more than you all do, but for right now we have very little limited transportation to those places that people want to go. What do you think?
Q: I think until news organizations that want to go can, they should have access to the pools. The more you have there, the less people will rely on them who are there, but for those who still can't make it, I don't see any harm in keeping the system going.
Clarke: Okay.
Q: How many news organizations do you have trying to get in that haven't been able to?
Clarke: Craig's the best judge of that because he keeps the most up-to-date list, but my sense is it's not a whole lot. Maybe under ten.
Q: But you can't go there on your own even if you wanted to. So I agree with Owen, until that's the case --
Q: Yeah.
Clarke: Okay.
Q: What's your best guess about when --
Clarke: Don't have one.
Q: It's mostly conceptual right now as opposed to --
Clarke: No, Franks and others have said yeah, we can fly, pull out a plane which we use just for this purpose. A good sign. It's a matter of finding one.
Q: I've only got one military reporter and I'm keeping him here, but I would love to get him over there. I asked this question before. Does he have to be in Bahrain to get him over there?
Clarke: Right now, and George makes a good point. If you guys for the transcript, I'm sorry, could identify yourself and your organization.
Q: Debra Howell, Newhouse.
Clarke: Thank you.
Right now the best place to be is Bahrain. We're bringing transportation in. That may change, but right now that's the best place to be. But more and more people are going in all the time.
Q: Sandy Johnson with AP. What about Kabul? We've got reporters there, but now that we've got a presence at the embassy and the runway and I don't know where else, it would be useful to us to have a press contact there.
Clarke: We don't have anything set up yet. It's still a very, very small number of U.S. there, so we'll keep you guys up to date on that, but right now plans are very slow.
Q: Do you know if (inaudible) person?
Clarke: I don't know, but I can find out.
If there's not any more on that, let's switch to the draft guidelines for selection for the secretary of Defense trips. We stamped draft on it for a reason. It's very much a work in progress. Very much based on a point-for-point response to what issues and concerns people have raised, but it is very much based on the things that people said we should be considering as we try to come up with some fair, equitable and predictable process. It is, some are qualitative and some are quantitative considerations, but it comes down clearly to size and scope of the different news organizations. Something that's very important to me is ongoing commitment to the Pentagon. Something that is very important to me and I probably don't communicate this very well to others, just because an audience may not be huge doesn't mean it's not important, so we're trying to have some diversity, we're trying to have some balance here. Nobody's going to be completely happy, I know that, but if we bring a heavy dose of predictability to this then I think we do ourselves a lot of good.
So I'll just open up the floor. I've talked to several of you individually and we've taken those on board. This reflects something of -- we didn't put a date on it, but probably 10 days ago. So I'll just open it up for questions and comments and insults.
Q: Torie, Clark Hoyt from Knight-Ridder.
This list, among other things that I think large newspaper people would find objectionable, this list takes care of television and wire services entirely before the first large newspaper person is included, and you're cutting from the bottom so that becomes very significant when you have limited numbers of seats. And I think you got a letter from Doyle McManus last week. If you work out the numbers, essentially every television network has about three times the opportunity to be included on a trip as do the large newspaper organizations that are committed to Pentagon coverage and have been historically.
Clarke: I want to set this up like (inaudible). So TV people can respond.
Q: It's not only TV people. Carl Leubsdorf of the Dallas Morning News. But I think there would be a question on the wire services, too. AP there's obviously no question; Reuters, not a great question. When you get to AFP, which does not I don't think serve very many United States outlets, basically, and that they're in ahead of the New York Times and the Washington Post and it just seems to be not right.
Q: I agree with that.
Q: Yeah.
Q: I agree with that, too.
Q: Same here. Many of us do.
Q: Torie, John Broder with the New York Times.
Have you compiled a list of, for this example, large newspapers that have what you consider an ongoing commitment? How do you define that commitment and how large is that universe? Is that five or six big newspapers that travel regularly? Is it two or three? Is it 10 or 15?
Clarke: I'm sorry, define which list.
Q: [David Shribman] This is the universe of large newspapers that demonstrate an ongoing commitment to covering the Pentagon and traveling with the Secretary. Do you know what that universe of newspapers is? So we can calculate the likelihood of getting a seat on any given trip.
Clarke: Sure. The obvious ones are, and I should try to figure out alphabetical order. The obvious suspects are New York Times, Wall Street Journal, L.A. Times, Washington Post, USA Today. Who am I missing?
Q: Knight-Ridder.
Clarke: Knight-Ridder. Large news organizations. Those are the major ones that consistently, well, are committed to the Pentagon that consistently want to travel.
Q: David Shribman from the Boston Globe.
Am I to understand that print organizations with circulations over 500,000 but which do not cover the Pentagon on a regular basis can be eligible to be included among the small newspaper, news service, magazine category? Is that correct?
Clarke: Uh huh [affirmative] This was hardly ever an issue prior to September 11th.
Q: Torie, Clark Hoyt again.
Just to clarify the point that John was asking about, the way these categories are set up, you've just listed six news organizations, but then you need to add at least three more because you've lumped magazines in with newspapers.
Clarke: Uh huh [affirmative]. [Brian] just made that point. I just forgot. I apologize.
Who don't often, and until recently, did not want to travel. I've only been here since the end of May, we did a few trips, and I can't remember a news magazine asking to travel prior to September 11th.
Q: Torie, Tobin Beck from UPI.
I also would argue for including us as a wire service, and if it's a question on reach and circulation, how much reach and circulation are you talking about?
Clarke: As I said, there are some quantitative and some qualitative factors here. That's just the way it is. I wish we could just make it quantitative criteria, but you can't.
Q: [Tobin Beck] So is there a reason why we're not included with AP, Reuters and AFP?
Clarke: Probably several reasons including size of reach. I don't apply one criteria to each organization, I apply several criteria to each organization. There's size and scope, there's ongoing commitment to the Pentagon, which UPI clearly has. On some things it comes out better than others.
Q: But our daily readership being conservatively in excess of 2.5 million, would that qualify? [UPI]
Q: [Carl Leubsdorf] Where is that readership? Is it domestic newspapers and television and radio stations?
Clarke: [Tobin Beck] It's primarily web sites. We're on about 60, I would guess, newspaper web sites. A total of around 1,000 web sites overall.
Clarke: Which we did not factor. We factor in with other organizations, if we did the numbers would probably be even much higher.
Q: Owen Ullmann, USA Today.
I think my main concern about the way you have the list structured is that if you were to go back and take any period, one, two, three, four, five, ten years, I think you would find that for the six major newspapers, news organizations, under this rotation we would have a chance to go on about a third of the trips, which would be significantly less than we're seeing all these organizations have traveled in the past when there was no war. In a sense, we're being penalized because now everyone wants to go and yet other news organizations, perhaps not the wires, but I suspect TV would actually be traveling more than they did when there wasn't a war and that may be true for some other media as well.
I think it's important for, the idea is to have a level playing field and fairness, the rotation should at least reflect the commitment not just of covering the Pentagon in the building, but I think covering the secretary when he travels.
I think most of these large news organizations have traveled at least half the time if not more often, and if that same kind of parity can be maintained, I think that is fairer than because now it's a bigger story.
I know on a lot of trips TV was not interested in going prior to this.
Clarke: Again, my experience goes back to the end of May. I think they were on --
Q: [Owen Ullmann] Going back several years.
Clarke: Okay, I'm sorry, just telling you what I experienced.
Q: [Owen Ullmann] It wasn't worth it for them to cover --
Q: It depends on what you're talking about. I'm Robin Sproul from ABC. But in the smallest conceivable pool this reflects the numbers from '85 on, the Sidle Commission, the smallest conceivable pools. TV can't -- we're here every day with four people usually, each of us, because we have a two-person crew, most of us have two correspondents full time covering the Pentagon. I think we routinely travel. And we're not only, you talk about reach, we not only blanket the country among the five of us, and one of my shows can hit seven million people, but we also have an international reach. We're feeding, this is the product that goes on the BBC and we feed the total international television audience too. And technically you can't get smaller [for] television. I'm talking about people who are feeding satellites and shooting pictures, and I think we have an outstanding record of filling every seat ever given to us.
Q: [Owen Ullmann] You can go to the tape and look over the record. I think that's what we need to do. We can easily, I'm sure you must keep records. I think it would be very instructive to go back, take a time period that it should be, at least five years, take ten years, trips by secretaries of Defense, and let's find out quantitatively who has gone and paid and who hasn't, and then we don't have to debate about what the record is. I think that would be very helpful in determining the criteria.
Clarke: I'll be happy to do so. It will be one factor. That's what I'm trying to say.
Q: -- the reach and the potential and the commitment.
Clarke: It's definitely one factor. I have a very soft spot in my heart for those organizations that have covered this place for the long haul, and it goes way before my time. So I hear what you're saying, but I just want -- everyone will find the criteria that works best for them in their news organization, which totally makes sense. That's human nature. What I'm saying is it's going to be a balance of those things.
Q: Torie, Clark Hoyt again.
We had a discussion about this at a prior meeting and I'd just like to bring the point up again. You're reserving a seat for a pool photographer. That's a still photographer, not a television camera operator. I really question the wisdom of that as somebody representing a print organization, the benefits from still photographs.
I just think that the nature of these trips is not nearly as photographic as it is repertorial. Reserving a seat for this purpose doesn't make sense to me, and I think if you canvassed the print organizations involved in this, I think you would obviously not get unanimity, but I think the preponderance of opinion --
Clarke: Why don't we --
Q: Tim Aubry from Reuter Pictures. (Laughter) Now we'll go to the other side.
As the saying goes, everybody can't be happy all the time. I'm certainly willing to tell you that I think the photo people should be moved up in the line. Now that goes against obviously what Clark's thinking. But every news organization here, even television, not necessarily (inaudible), would have access to these pictures and use the pictures to go with it.
Times have changed since September 11th. We have traveled -- most of the time we don't have a problem not traveling with the secretary because we can get access to them on the ground. We have asked specifically in these type situations, and the ones we've pushed the hardest on are the ones that are going overseas, the ones where we can't get access on the ground. We can't get to these guys on the ground.
When the secretary goes in, I don't know where he's going on the whole trip, but when he goes in we can't get our guys on the ground to get to him. We'll cover him on the ground if we can, but we can't get to him. We're not asking for three wire photographers or 12 photographers representing -- we want one photographer. The same way radio has asked, one person to represent every organization that's out there. We are one of the two groups that have agreed to pool -- I mean television agreed to pool and they still have more people on. We've agreed to pool, we're asking for the basic minimum to help us do what we need to do.
And as much as every one of these correspondents want to go out there and do it, there would be no pictures to go with it. I'd like to say that I think the pictures are important. That's what I do every day and they are important. They run in the newspapers, they run on wires, they run on the television. When television has access to it, television uses a lot of our still images as the stuff that Mr. Howlander did coming out of Camp Rhino did in the very beginning. An awful lot of every television station used those pictures. They're available to everybody, they're out there, they tell a story. I think we need to have them.
Like I say, that's one person working for every news organization instead of one person working for a large newspaper, and we've just got to take the stuff individually. That's my feeling but I feel very strongly about it.
Clarke: Anybody else?
Q: Vicky Walton-James for the Chicago Tribune.
When you are reviewing the news organizations that have traveled with the Secretary and those who haven't, I would just ask that you consider those of us who often want to travel with the Secretary but aren't chosen.
Q: Right. (Inaudible) track who's gone and requests as well. You're absolutely right.
Clarke: There is a significant change in that since September 11th.
Q: Torie, Kim Hume from Fox News.
I would also point out if you go back and do that research that the networks traditionally, we have a mechanism called a VIP pool. While you may not see an ABC correspondent on a former secretary's plane, that's because we have agreed to pool and we had one correspondent in the pool or whatever we've been allowed. So all five networks are always represented when there is a TV -- So just in terms of your research, it's not the organization itself who gets the credit, but all five networks who use that material and sacrifice what we have to sacrifice in order to do it that way.
Clarke: I have to say, the networks and the photo folks have done a good job of organizing themselves, coming together with a consensus about how to do this. The last thing we want to do is micromanage this so I appreciate those efforts and the work that you all put into that.
Q: David Shribman of the Boston Globe again.
Are the travel arrangements for domestic trips different than foreign trips, Torie?
Clarke: We weren't planning on it to be.
Q: It's obviously easier to have a bigger or a second plane.
Clarke: We need far fewer staff, the secretary needs far fewer people traveling with him, there's far fewer security requirements, that sort of thing. So we have more seats on the plane. And generally less interest, too.
Anything else? Anything glaring that's missing? Owen?
Q: We don't address the issue on the larger plane, what the pool rules would be. It sounds like TV already has an agreement on that they won't all go. But the newspapers do not. We (inaudible) you go and you do what you want, and those who want to go but can't go are sort of stuck.
I do think it's important if you do have rules that you sort of buy onto, that we need to have some arrangement, much like pools in the field, that newspapers have one, access to what the Secretary is saying on the plane -- whether it's on the record or background or whatever, that it's made available. I think we talked about those that signed up and again qualified for being in the pool. I think that's kind of important if we're going to buy into some rotation where we wind up going less often than we have before or want.
Clarke: I'd say two things. One, thanks to Vic, we try to do a pretty efficient job. Anything that gets done on the plane. The secretary walks back for five minutes or meets with people for 15 minutes, or if somebody comes back and does a backgrounder we record it, transcribe it, and the first chance we get we send them back here and it gets posted pretty quickly. We've had arguments with people on the plane saying hey, we got to come on the flight, you should hold that until we've done our story. Which we have not yet agreed to.
A request, really, why don't you get some of your colleagues together and figure out how you would do something like that. I mean just pool, the word, drives me crazy. So I tend to try to stay away from it. The networks have done a great job of organizing themselves, how they want to handle these things. But I think that's up to you all to get together and decide if that's something you want to do.
Unless somebody has anything else, what we will do is take this on board, wash it around with people here, come up with another version. I'm not going to put a time line on it.
Q: One issue, Tom Seem, CBS.
There have been some, and I think you've addressed this in the document or set of documents, filing time after the Defense secretary makes comments at various different stops. That's been a problem for us, especially [when we need it to make news], and our folks have been hustled right out to the next country and so forth. Is that --
Clarke: That is [Wyatt Andrews], this is my language, still whining about what happened in Red Square. Everyone stay put for five minutes. (Laughter) To the extent possible, we build in filing time, and I wish Vic were here, because Vic Warzinski regularly does an extraordinary job of finding means and abilities for people to file.
If anybody hasn't caught on by now, if you travel with Secretary Rumsfeld, he's prepared to go hard and go fast, and don't look for any gold-plated situations. It just doesn't exist.
The fact of the matter is, Secretary Rumsfeld, to my knowledge, based on what your correspondents have told me, is the only secretary of Defense who has gotten reporters into the Kremlin for events. He has done that twice. I know exactly what [Wyatt] was whining about. There was a meeting with Ivanov which ran late, which was a very good thing, which made us late for the meeting with Putin, and the meeting with Putin ran late which was a very good thing, and then they came out and did the press conference, the secretary of Defense and Ivanov did, did the press conference, and let me remind you that correspondents from the United States had not been in there before. And we were late. We had to get on to the next country to which we had events. And despite that we found a way, we convinced the Russians to let them do their standups in Red Square, which again, according to your correspondents, told me has never been done before, and it was pretty remarkable. And I'm sorry if they were rushed, and I'm sorry if it was unpleasant. And --
Q: The greater concern is not --
Clarke: The greater concern is --
Q: -- what's going to happen Sunday in Afghanistan.
Clarke: I don't know, what's happening Sunday in Afghanistan?
Q: With the upcoming trip.
Clarke: Nothing that I know of. No, the greater issue is that we regularly make incredible arrangements so your people can do their work and can file and get the job done, and if somebody doesn't like it hard and fast then they shouldn't travel with us.
Q: Are there travel arrangements made for people on the ground who can at least catch up with the secretary?
Clarke: Yeah, and I think we're generally pretty good about that. It sort of depends on where we are. We're in some pretty strange places sometimes. But we tend to link up pretty closely with the Embassy and they're always trying to do that but they're pressed, so we are always encouraging that.
And one more thing, we are going to release this in about half an hour, release the tape in about half an hour, so it will be on the pool line, it will be posted on DefenseLink, all those things. [ news release: ]
Thanks very much.

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