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Deputy Assistant Secretary Whitman Interview with Fox News Channel

Presenters: Bryan Whitman, DASD PA (Media Operations)
April 17, 2003

(Interview with Cal Thomas, After Hours With Cal Thomas, Fox News Channel.)

Q: In the beginning Bryan there were concerns that the embedded journalist would turn out to be cheerleaders for the U.S. government for the military for the Bush Administration’s position. How do you think it turned work out?

Whitman: I think the people that were saying that really weren’t giving reporters enough credit. I understand certainly that when you share hardships with our troops out in the field that you gain a certain empathy for what they are doing but, I think we found that when bad things happen reporters were there to report on it in an objective, fair and balanced way. So the people that were saying that I think just were not giving reporters enough credit for their professionalism.

Q: Some of the liberal critics of the coverage as well as the policy said that these pictures were staged, one thinks of the flag over the statue of Saddam Hussein’s face, some people likened it to the Iwo Jima raising of the flag during World War II. Any of this staged or was it all spontaneous?

Whitman: No, there was nothing staged about anything that you saw out there. What you saw was really how well trained, how well equipped, and how well led America’s military forces are. I think you got to see an unvarnished look at professionalism and dedication that they all have out there.

Q: Is embedding the way of the future?

Whitman: I would like to think so, I think that it was very ambitious to put this many reporters out in the field but it did a lot of things for us. We knew that Saddam Hussein was a practiced liar. We knew that he used misinformation and tried to deceive the international community about what he was doing. And one of the ways that we realized that we could mitigate some of this was to have that very objective observer, the very definition of a reporter, out there in the field, telling the truth as it occurred as it unfolded.

And I think there were some really interesting examples when you had reporters rolling through the streets of Baghdad and the Iraqi Defense Minister on a split screen saying, "No, there are no Americans here, no we have upheld all these attacks".

Q: There were a number of journalists who died. I don’t have the figures from other wars, but it seems to me that there were quite a few. Michael Kelly of the Washington Post and David Bloom of NBC. Is this going to discourage, do you think, other journalists especially with young families as these men had from going out in the future?

Whitman: I don’t think so, I think that journalist accept the risks that are associated with going out into combat with our forces. The news organizations were very good about sending forward their best, their brightest, and their most experienced journalists out there, and of those that were injured or killed you have to remember, that those that were in the embedded program, only 2 of those journalists that died were actually embedded with U.S. forces. The other casualties, the other deaths occurred outside the embedded program.

Q: There were some problems from Peter Arnett’s suck up interview with an Iraqi military officer to Geraldo Rivera being expelled, because he was drawing some battle plans or his location in the sand but, by in large, how would you assess the performance of journalists in this war?

Whitman: I would say it has been very good. It is good because again, news organizations sent their best and brightest forward. It’s been good because news organizations have worked with the Pentagon to fashion a set of ground rules that would allow them to cover this conflict in a very up close way and yet not compromise operational security or endanger the personnel that were out there conducting these missions.

Q: The Vietnam War poisoned relationships between the Pentagon and the press especially, that felt that it had been lied to by civilian and military officials. With the success of embedding in this war, do you think that era of cynicism and those hostile relations have been mitigated at all?

Whitman: I certainly hope so, I believe that the commanders today, the military of the 21st century that the men and woman out there, and men and women in leadership positions, really do understand the role and responsibility of a free press and a democratic society and it really goes to demonstrating their confidence, and our confidence in them that we can put this many journalists out there in the field in a very transparent way and let them have insight to what our folks are doing in the field.

Q: Would you like to take a quick 30 seconds to address the wrong predictions of so many journalists before the war started.

Whitman: Well, I think that their were many journalists who thought that it might be better to cover this conflict from stationary places like Qatar or perhaps even in this building and I think that maybe they are regretting those kinds of career decisions because the true story was out there on the battlefield and that story was with out troops out there and it was being able to see how this conflict unfolded right before their very eyes and report it to the American people.

Q: I want to re-ask that question so just hold that shot a second because that is not the answer to the question that I asked. The question I asked was this. Do you want to take 30 seconds or less and respond to the predictions of disaster not enough troops to accomplish the objective that so many journalist made before the war began, and in the first days after it started?

Whitman: Well, I guess it’s good that there isn’t a penalty for wrong predictions because there would be a lot of penalties being handed out right now, I suppose. This is human nature to speculate on these things and in an open society like ours, it is good that people have diverse opinions about these things but, those disasters that people were predicting really didn’t come to fruition.

Q: Bryan, we’ve been in the spirit of the Passover and Easter weekend. You are a charitable man. Thanks very much for joining me on After Hours. Hope you’ll come back.

Whitman: My pleasure.

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