Gates Calls Congress, Press Key Pillars in Protecting Liberty
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
ANNAPOLIS, Md., May 25, 2007 As more than 1,000 U.S. Naval Academy graduates here took their oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution today, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reminded them to respect two important pillars of U.S. constitutional freedoms: Congress and the press. (Video)
“Both surely try our patience from time to time,” Gates said at today’s graduation and commissioning ceremony, drawing laughter from the midshipmen, academy officials and friends and family members gathered at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. “But they are the surest guarantors of the liberty of the American people.”
Gates noted that the legislative branch is equal to the executive branch under the constitution, and is charged with raising and providing for the military. Members of both parties serving in Congress have a long history of support for the Defense Department, and especially the men and women in uniform, he said.
“As officers, you will have a responsibility to communicate to those below you that the American military must be non-political,” he told the midshipmen.
He said they must also recognize their obligation to be honest and true when they report to Congress, “especially when it involves admitting mistakes or problems.”
That’s also true with the press, the so-called “Fourth Estate” that Gates said also helps guarantee U.S. freedoms. “The press is not the enemy, and to treat it as such is self-defeating,” he said.
The secretary pointed to recent media coverage of problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington as an example of how the media can help the military root out and deal with difficulties.
When the press identifies a problem, as at Walter Reed, senior leaders should find out if it’s true, then go to work to remedy the problem, he said. In cases where it’s not true, leaders should be able to document that fact.
Gates said the checks and balances provided in the constitution, and the willingness of Americans to honor those checks and balances, has served the country throughout its history.
He noted how impressed a French observer was when he wrote about George Washington in 1782. “This is the seventh year that he has commanded the Army, and that he has obeyed the Congress,” the Frenchman wrote. “More need not be said.”
Gates told the midshipmen these principles are as important today as during Washington’s time.
“As the founding fathers wisely understood, the Congress and a free press, as with a non-political military, assure a free country,” he said.