Odierno Shares Views on Military’s Relationship With Media
By David Vergun
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2012 The biggest challenge in the relationship between the military and the media is working together in an uncertain environment in an age of instant communication, the Army’s chief of staff said here Oct. 19.
Gen. Ray Odierno shared his views on military-media relations in remarks and a question-and-answer session with about 60 journalists attending the 10th annual Military Reporters and Editors Conference.
“As we move forward, and as I look at what’s going on around the world, the ability to communicate instantaneously is only going to get faster and faster and faster, and the ability to report is going to get faster and faster and faster,” he said. “And, the pressure requirements on you and as well as me to understand the environment on what’s going on is going to become more important as well. You have to get the story in quickly to be able to publish what you think you’re seeing.”
In this fast-paced environment, Odierno said, it is inevitable that first reports out will be wrong about 50 percent of the time, due to a variety of circumstances. He said it is up to the military to follow up on those first reports by getting the most accurate information back out to the reporters as the facts become known and available.
“This requires a good interchange, strong relationships and trust to do that,” he added. In his experience, the general said, that bond of trust does exist.
“A large majority of [media] people I’ve associated with over my 36 years in the Army have been very professional,” Odierno said. “I don’t ever remember a time when that trust was broken, and I think that’s important. And, I really, really do appreciate that, and that’s the kind of relationship we want to continue as we move forward.”
Trust works both ways, he added. The military must provide reporters with all the correct facts they need for their stories in a timely manner, he said, and must rely on reporters, in turn, to maintain operational security.
“Off-the-record sessions were some of the best sessions I’ve had with reporters,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to discuss what’s on my mind, and they discovered and discussed things with me that I didn’t know that enabled me to do my job better.”
Odierno said the Army must continue to reach out to the media.
“We’re going to engage and outreach with you and have a relationship with you here, overseas, during training events, no matter where it is, during tough problems and good problems,” he said. “We’re going to build a relationship and work together to get you the right facts so your stories are reported accurate, important and cutting-edge.”
The Army’s relationship with the media has evolved in positive ways, Odierno said, as it now works more closely with reporters and is evolving away from the embedded approach, in which reporters cover warfare with a specific unit. “I think sometimes the media feels trapped,” he explained, “because the military says when and where they go and don’t go.”
The media are moving around more and building networks, he added, but safety and security considerations sometimes will require reporters to embed with units.
Odierno said he has genuine positive feelings for the media.
“As corps commander in Iraq and then Multinational Force Iraq commander, I was impressed with the heroism [of the media] as I watched many people operate, putting their own personal safety at risk, to deliver news to people back in the United States. I learned to respect that,” the general said.
The chief of staff admitted that his own efforts to report the news have been less than successful. He said he’s had a Facebook page since he served in Iraq, but that his audience is mostly internal. He has had more success reaching an audience outside the Army, he said, with the recent launch of his Twitter account, @GenRayOdierno.
The question-and-answer session touched on a variety of topics, including the new U.S. defense strategy that focuses on the Asia-Pacific region. Odierno said the Army is establishing programs of multilateral engagements throughout that region, including training exercises and humanitarian missions. It is crucial to build more transparency with China, he added, and he held out the possibility that some multinational exercises could include China.
He also touched on the Army’s professionalism.
“We have a battle-hardened, battle-tested leader capability that will give us an advantage as we look and adjust to the future,” he said, adding that the Army will need these leaders as it adjusts to a more complex world environment.
“What we ask our captains and our lieutenant colonels today is a lot harder than what I had to do when I was a captain or lieutenant colonel, because the world is more complex and difficult, and the challenges they’re going to face are more difficult,” he said. “They’re adaptive leaders who mix the science and art of war together to come up with the right solutions at the right time.”