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Pentagon tightens media controls

In the immediate aftermath of the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal for that explosive article in Rolling Stone Magazine, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has issued a memo that clamps down on future media interviews which will clearly have a chilling effect on media engagements, particularly with senior military officers.

In the memo, entitled, "INTERACTION WITH THE MEDIA" Gates says he's "concerned that the [Defense] Department has grown lax in how we engage with the media, often in contravention of established rules and procedures." In an apparent attempt to control the message, Gates has now ordered that all interview requests from the media that have "possible national or international implications," which is pretty much everything the Pentagon press corps covers, must first be submitted to Pentagon Public Affairs for review and consultation.

Pentagon Public Affairs Officer Col. David LaPan insists these new controls are for consultation and recommendations only, and not to exert "veto" power over any requests. But in reality if the Pentagon advises against a particular media engagement that would amount to a de facto veto. It could also stand in the way of public accountability. Many senior military officers worried about their own career could easily hold up the secretary's memo as good reason for not talking to the media and, in turn, the American public.

LaPan also says the decision to take this step was taken by Gates himself, not a suggestion from the White House, and also claims the steps ordered here are only intended to "reinforce what is current policy" regarding military-media contacts.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says Gates took this extraordinary step because he felt "too many people were talking too often about too many subjects without coordination and discipline" and insists it has nothing to do with censorhip.

Gates has often told military leaders and service members, "The press is not the enemy and to treat it as such is self-defeating." But his recent memo comes not only on the heels of the McChrystal debacle, but just as Gates has expressed frustration over the negative news coverage of the stalled war in Afghanistan.