In today's environment, there are few military operations in which the media are not present with the capability of immediately transmitting what can be seen and heard. The images and words they project are powerful and can affect national policy. In our form of government, the media have the right to cover operations, and the public has a right to know what the media have to say. Many in the media lack a full understanding of the military, but they are the key conduits of information about the Army to the public. There are many good things about the Army that are unknown to the public. Commanders and public affairs personnel have a responsibility to tell the Army story. Freedom of the press does not negate the requirement for operations security and the accomplishment of the military mission. This appendix addresses how to deal appropriately with the media.
The objective of the SBCT infantry battalion commander in dealing with the media is to ensure that battalion operations are presented to the American public and audiences around the world in the proper context. Commanders can best achieve this goal by educating soldiers and subordinate leaders about the positive aspects of a well-informed public.
K-2. MEDIA REALITIES
In the modern era, it is impossible to keep large-scale military movements quiet. The media will speculate on destinations of these moves and the likely missions, and such speculation can affect OPSEC. News coverage for deployments will be immediate and worldwide, and the messages put out by television and the print press can change policy. The Army cannot and should not control media messages or stories. The media will go everywhere they can to uncover unique angles and stories. They will mistrust or discount official statements or accounts. They will resist management and escort and will instead try to gather their information firsthand. However, most members of the media have not served in the military and do not understand military nuances.
K-3. MEDIA OBJECTIVES AND INTERESTS
The media will want access to soldiers and units, but they will grudgingly accept media pools. They will seek fresh stories every day and will expect daily authoritative briefings from operators and leaders. The press also wants the soldiers' perspective and will try to accompany soldiers on missions. The media are particularly interested in excessive civilian casualties, fratricide, and the plight of noncombatants. They will want to discuss the rules of engagement and issues related to them. Also of media interest will be any military-civilian disagreements or conflicts, such as looting, murder, rape, or mistreatment of prisoners. Civilian opinions blaming US forces for lack of food, fuel, water, or medical care are sure to reach the press. Looming large on the press list will be any US casualty figures, both actual and projected.
K-4. MEDIA CAPABILITIES
With available technology, the media have the capability to collect and transmit images and sounds worldwide from any location. They have the ability to cover events quickly and to influence the public either positively or negatively. With interest high in worldwide deployments, the media can send large numbers of reporters to cover operations in great detail.
K-5. COMMAND CONSIDERATIONS
Commanders must anticipate, prepare, and respond within 24 hours to breaking events. Otherwise, it will be difficult or impossible to explain or counter what has already appeared on the television or in print. When the released report is inaccurate, the commander should aggressively counter the false report with timely and accurate information backed up by subject matter experts. It is also important to coordinate statements among agencies. Bad news does not get better with age and ignoring the media will not make them go away. If the commander refuses to talk to the media, he will only guarantee the military's perspective will not be seen or heard. The commander must balance his time with the news media to avoid being overexposed or ignored.
K-6. MEDIA GUIDELINES
The following are general guidelines for dealing with the media. These guidelines must be tempered with the public's right to know and the requirements of OPSEC.
a. Security Considerations. It is important that all soldiers understand what is classified and not discuss it with the press. Soldiers should also understand that they are not required to talk to the media if it is against their wishes. Precautions should be taken to protect classified information from the news media. If someone accidentally reveals classified information, the reporter should be informed and asked not to use it and explain why. All such incidents must be reported to the SBCT. All soldiers represent the military; they should not guess or speculate on things they do not know. Anything said could be in the hands of the enemy in minutes. Grumbling or thoughtless complaining could provide the enemy with propaganda to use against the military. The media must be prevented from televising nearby recognizable landmarks, sensitive equipment, or operational or classified information contained in the CP. The reasons for interfering with the telecast should be explained to the press.
b. Media Controls. Media in the AO should be checked to ensure that they are credentialed, and a military escort should escort them at all times for their safety. An interview should not be scheduled when it could interfere with the mission. Even when preventing the disclosure of classified information, media material or equipment should not be confiscated.
c. Things Not To Be Discussed. Neither the commander nor any member of his command should discuss political or foreign policy matters. These are outside the direct purview of the military and would be purely speculative. No soldier should discuss matters about which he does not have direct knowledge. Operational capabilities should not be discussed with the press, including exact numbers or troop strengths, numbers or types of casualties, types of weapons systems, and future plans.
K-7. INTERVIEW GUIDELINES
The SBCT infantry battalion commander or a senior member of the staff may be required to grant an interview. This should be considered an opportunity to ensure that the needs of the media are met by providing accurate, timely, and useful information.
a. Maintain a Professional Attitude. Remain in control even when the media seem aggressive or ask silly questions. Be polite but firm. Be brief and concise; use simple language. Do not use jargon or acronyms; the public does not know what they mean. Tell the Army story.
b. Make a Good Impression. Relax and be yourself. Ignore the cameras and talk directly to the reporter. Remove your sunglasses so the audience can see your eyes. Use appropriate posture and gestures.
c. Think First. Stop and think before answering; questions need not be answered instantly. Answer only one question at a time. Do not allow yourself to be badgered or harassed. Do not get angry. Correct answers are more important than deadlines.
d. Know the Question. If you do not understand the question, ask the reporter to rephrase it. Know the question you are answering. Do not answer "what if" questions or render opinions. Reporters often ask the same question in different ways--stay consistent.
e. Everything Counts. Everything is ON THE RECORD. You may be friendly, but this is business--stick to business. The interviewer chooses the questions--you choose the answers.
f. Questions Will Not Be There. Videotape and print media will not include the question, just your answer. Your answer should stand alone. If the interviewer uses a catch phrase, such as "assassination squad," do not use the word or phrase in your answer. Example: "What are you doing about the assassination squads?" Bad Answer: "The assassination squads are being investigated." Better Answer: "We are committed to investigating this matter and will take the necessary and appropriate action."
g. Speak About What You Know. If you do not know the answer, simply say, "I don't know." That answer rarely appears in print. Avoid speculation or answering a question more appropriate for the Secretary of Defense. Talk about your area of expertise.
h. Tell the Truth. Tell the truth even if it hurts. Do not try to cover embarrassing events with a security classification. Never lie to the media.
K-8. TRAINING FOR MEDIA AWARENESS
Units should train for media awareness in two parts, first in a classroom, then in the field.
a. Classroom Phase. OPSEC should be covered thoroughly. Many of the things outlined in this appendix should be discussed with soldiers and leaders. If a media card is available in the command, it should be explained in detail. Soldiers should be instructed in how to give an interview and their right to refuse to do so. Leaders should understand their responsibility to convey the Army's story truthfully so that the general public will understand it.
b. Field Phase. Soldiers should be given an opportunity to participate in an interview using soldiers who role-play as reporters. If possible, the role-playing soldiers should be qualified in public affairs training. This training should be included in regular field training exercises. If a video camera is used during the interview, the tape can be replayed during an AAR. Due to the possible far reaching effects of interviews, this training should receive considerable command emphasis.
K-9. MEDIA CARDS
If higher headquarters has not developed a media card, the battalion commander should ask the PAO to develop one. If he or she does not or cannot, the commander should consider doing so for the battalion. Items to include in a media card are--
- Whom to contact and how to contact him or her if a reporter arrives in the unit's area.
- Responsibilities of a media escort.
- What information can or cannot be discussed.
- When to allow a media interview.
- How to treat reporters.
- How to conduct an interview.
- The best techniques to use in telling the Army's story.
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