(Meeting with DoD National Media Pool bureau chiefs.)
Clarke: I just have a couple of housekeeping matters, one larger than the other. But the first one is the pooling status or the lack of need for it in Afghanistan. [Rear Adm.] Craig [Quigley, DASD PA] should be coming down here pretty soon, I think.
We have talked to a lot of the media on the ground in Afghanistan and there is a lot of it in a lot of different locations now and pooling doesn't seem to make much sense, so we have an obligation which we will live up to get those back to Bahrain who want to get back to Bahrain, but we are ending the pool status, and let's hear it for unilaterals in Afghanistan.
Voice: Way to go.
Clarke: There's a lot going on. I think, just based on what we're hearing from your correspondents I think it's working to have a fair number of public affairs officials there who are trying to make things happen. Everyone seems relatively happy. I use that term very carefully. That's what we'll do. Of course if something changes or if activity picks up in a certain area that we need to go back to that we will, but that's where we are.
Doherty: Ralph Doherty with Reuters. What changed, it seemed like all the way up to Christmas Eve the pool was still alive and people waiting in Bahrain for the C-130 to be fixed and then all of a sudden the pool was called off. We were told it was overtaken by events, but I'm not sure what events.
Clarke: I don't think it was as sudden as it seems. We've been asking ourselves the question for a good week or ten days here now saying does this really make sense given how many organizations had people there, and people really did seem to be getting around and getting, not everything they want, but getting a fair amount of what they wanted. So it didn't seem as sudden to us. And the C-130 ten days ago, a week ago, whatever it was, was really needed, so we worked hard on getting it fixed. As I said, we know there are some that want to get back to Bahrain, we'll get them back to Bahrain. But it just doesn't seem to make sense anymore.
Voice: Are there public affairs people on the ground in Kandahar now? Once the pool comes out, people who make their way there will be able to talk to --
Clarke: We've got people there, we've got them in Bagram, we've got them in Mazar-e Sharif, we've got them in most different places.
Voice: JIBs [joint information bureaus]?
Clarke: No. Just public affairs officials.
Chuck Lewis [Hearst]: What is the access like to the Marines without a pool? What will the access be?
Clarke: I think it will be pretty good. I think it will be similar or more than what the access has been with it. When you start to get 12 in a pool, that's pretty big.
Lewis: And that's true of the 10th Mountain up in the north?
Clarke: Bagram, Mazar-e Sharif, and I know -- maybe it's because it's the only place I've been is Bagram, but interesting stuff going on, and if you're interested in other countries' involvement, there's a fair amount going on up there. I know it's not the real focus right now, but --
Hall: John Hall with AP. Is the procedure just to show up at the gate?
Clarke: We have and we can reissue a series of names and contact numbers. [ contacts ] Jeff Alderson is still very useful, Winchester is very useful, Bonnie Hebert is very useful, in terms of logistics and pointing people in directions.
Again, I go mostly on what we hear from your correspondents. I talked to some people last night from the New York Times about some stuff going on at Kandahar. They've got a pretty good sense of where and how to access people, but we can provide you with the names and phone numbers of the public affairs folks we do have over there.
Voice: That would be great.
Clarke: We can figure it out.
Hall: Is there a time certain when the pool will be disbanded?
Clarke: Consider it disbanded. Go crazy.
Goldman: Would there be any -- Jeff Goldman, CBS -- would there be any centralized JIB set up anywhere just to --
Clarke: We don't plan to. We'll always assess things as circumstances change, but we don't plan to right now.
Lewis: Is there still going to be maybe the international Kabul, something there eventually?
Clarke: The CIC [coalition information center], you mean a version of that?
Admiral Quigley's here.
We'll take it day by day.
Doherty: At the last meeting you talked about a flight that would go to various spots leaving Bahrain independent of a pool.
Clarke: Admiral Quigley might have an update.
Quigley: Do we think that is still a good idea and that is something that you might like to do. That's the question. It's getting easier to travel in Afghanistan all the time. And two weeks ago it sounded like about the only way to do business was to run a round-robin flight starting in Bahrain, hitting Kandahar, Bagram, Mazar-e Sharif, and then getting back to Bahrain. Roughly once a week, staying at one area for maybe a couple of days and moving on. Is that something that still makes sense?
Voice: I think that was an option, I think. I don't want to speak for everybody, but it seemed --
Wendy Wilkinson [NBC]: We'd like to poll our folks and actually come back and state, because I think they might, but I'd like to be able to actually -- if in fact we can give them a date certain that it would actually --
Quigley: Can't do. I mean I don't know. I have no idea. We have not made arrangements for the plane. We would need to make nearly permanent arrangements for a plane to go every Tuesday or something like that from Bahrain at 9:00 in the morning local time or whatever, and you go bingita, bingita, bingita, bingita. So people that can go from one to the other to the other and eventually end up in Bahrain. But does that still make sense? Is there a desire for that?
Wilkinson: It's my sense that we're moving around pretty easily, but if we could get back to you after consulting with some of the people over there, does that make sense?
Voice: How do you want us to get back to you?
Quigley: I'm headed back to Tampa tomorrow, so you could call me there, you could e-mail me there, it could go through Torie's office. We're talking all the time, so machs nichts. I can give you a phone number or an e-mail address down in Tampa if you want.
Voice: What's your e-mail address, sir?
Quigley: firstname.lastname@example.org . I will be there Saturday sometime late in the day, in the office on Sunday, and thereafter for awhile.
Voice: No Y?
Quigley: No Y. It's almost perfect, but it's not quite. Lots of people have finished my sentence for me and said oh, I know how to do that, Q-U-I-G-L-E-Y. No, you don't. Q-U-I-G-L-E-C-R at -- just to make it hard and to have lots more e-mail messages bounce back to you.
Voice: So Admiral, you want an organization to send you a note whether you're interested in --
Clarke: Poll your folks.
Quigley: Absolutely. This would be something where you could go from A to B to C, but we're just not sure that's -- we don't want to offer a deal that nobody wants to do.
Clarke: That's that.
The other is the much-anticipated selection process for SecDef trips. Not perfect --
Owen Ullmann [USA Today]: Sorry, before we move on -- where would you suggest that without a pool the reporters go to, if they want to hook up with any of the troops? Is Kandahar still the best place?
Clarke: I continue to believe interesting things are going on in Bagram, Mazar-e Sharif, particularly if you're interested in more than U.S. involvement. What we're hearing from your folks is a lot of interest obviously in Kandahar. And then there are a lot of media in Tora Bora. But you guys are better at the news judgment than we are.
Ullmann: Where are you on embedding reporters with Special Ops?
Clarke: We are looking at that very hard and doing things on a case-by-case basis.
Ullmann: That's ongoing?
Clarke: Uh huh. [affirmative]
Voice: How best to reporters make their interest known?
Clarke: Talk to me, talk to Admiral Quigley.
Quigley: Can we go back to Owen's question again for just a second, talking about where to go.
What you see is three completely different types of activity in Kandahar, in Bagram, and in Mazar-e Sharif. Obviously the demographics are different, but you have Marines at Kandahar and what they have been doing the past few days anyway is putting together the detention facility there.
Up at Bagram you've got civil affairs, you've got civil engineers, you've got -- you're putting together an airport, if you will, to be a regional distribution center for medical assistance and for food and winter clothing and things of that sort.
Hospital, you've got a Jordanian field hospital at Mazar-e Sharif, up north. That is in the actual town of Mazar-e Sharif in an old abandoned hospital, basically. It's also where the people of that area think hospital. That's where there memory says there was a hospital here once, and that's where the Jordanians are putting the facility so that people kind of automatically know where to go.
You've also got Air Force Red Horse engineers that are also putting that airfield back into operation. So for the north central part of Afghanistan, again, you've got a regional distribution hub for food, for clothing, for medical assistance and things of that sort. So three very different areas of the country doing different things. With the Friendship Bridge open now coming down from Uzbekistan, it is easier, although not easy, to get to Mazar-e Sharif.
With Kabul now becoming more and more a capital city as it was and will be, you've got Bagram to the north, only an hour or so, hour and a half drive, so that is easier, although still not easy. So the question is what do you want to see and where your priorities are.
So all three of the airfields can take C-130s now, and do routinely for resupply missions and moving people in and out and what have you. So this is something we can do, but only if it makes sense.
Clarke: Moving on. Travel selection. [ memorandum ]
Nothing's perfect. I'm sure it isn't. It does reflect the input of a lot of you, your correspondents, folks from our public affairs team, and I've had lots of conversations with individuals around this table.
We have tried to base this on a combination of quantitative and qualitative criteria, and I couldn't honestly say one criteria is more important than the other, but obviously size and scope and reach of a news organization is important. Commitment to covering the Pentagon on an ongoing basis is very important. And reaching out to more than the usual suspects and usual audiences. What I mean by that is this. Some organizations came in and argued just size -- bigger is better. That's not the only thing. There are people we want to reach in certain places of the world, so you need certain kinds of news organization representation. So we've tied to have a balance here.
Most importantly what people really focused hard on were two things. One was AP, obviously, and the other was some predictability. Nobody is going to be completely happy with this, but at least there can be some predictability.
The network bureau chiefs made a strong case, which I'm fine with, that you give us the number of seats and we'll figure out what we want to do with them. So that's what we're going to do with the network representation on these flights.
Most of you are pretty familiar with this. It does reflect some changes after last week or two weeks ago when a draft went around to a lot of folks. It does reflect some changes to most importantly take into account that if we do have to limit the number of seats, drop down from the 12 or 13 we normally get, then we've moved large newspapers up in the pecking order, if you will, so they'll be better represented.
Change as far as the network bureau chiefs go. So again, it's a balance, nobody's going to be completely happy, but we think this is pretty representative of the criteria we're trying to assess in terms of getting the best in terms of your interests and the best in terms of what we think is important coverage of the DoD activities.
In terms of housekeeping and logistics, some of you will need to identify or declare yourselves as to what kind of news organization you are. Bryan [Whitman, deputy director, DoD Press Operations], are you going to be the lucky soul?
Whitman: Sure. We need to do some planning for January, so if we could have it by Thursday of next week, a week from now --
Clarke: Some of you are obvious, some of you are not, but sort of figure out where do we fit best in terms of these categories and make your intent known.
There may also be some, Media General never has expressed an interest in traveling and may never express an interest in traveling. That would be nice to know as well.
Tom McCarthy [L.A. Times]: What exactly did you want by Thursday?
Whitman: I guess what I need to know is that while you all are members of the national media pool, and this is kind of the auspices that you've been forming in this group, and that's what I used as a baseline to put together the initial list. I need to know one, if your news organization is interested in traveling with the secretary, because some of you have never traveled with the secretary before and might not have any interest in traveling with the secretary. And two, some of you have, are going to need to declare your status as to whether you're a news service or a news wire or something along that line. Some of you are, you can't be in more than one category so you're going to have to declare yourself.
If you do that by next Thursday, and probably the best way to do it is just by e-mail: email@example.com .
If you want to tell me who your point of contact is or who the person should be that's contacted when a trip comes up, that will make it easier for us to go to the person that you want to either accept or decline for your news organization on a trip.
Voice: With this change in things, from now on how will you get the word, you used to just post sign-up sheets. Will there be sort of an active e-mailing, a proactive thing --
Wilkinson: In the case of TV, the pool chairman for the quarter would need to quickly --
Clarke: Sure. And also it will make a lot of people's lives easier. There will be more predictability and more of a heads-up of who's going so individuals won't find out at the last meeting whether or not they're on or not.
Whitman: You or your correspondents -- your correspondents are here all the time so they can come see me and they'll see where they're at on the list and will have some predictability as they see news organizations rise and as people go they'll go to the bottom of the list. So they'll always have a good feel for where you're at in the rotation. You can call me or you can have your representative here in the building just come look at the current list.
Goldman: A point of clarification on number 12, photographers. Is that referring to still or TV camera person?
Lewis: Torie, on the draft that we looked at at our last meeting you did the great service to us all by indicating the number of seats per category. So could you take us through a hypothetical of what a 12 or 13 member contingent will --
Clarke: And we did try to go back and look at the track record, if you will. There have not been great records kept of SecDef travel. It was only -- we looked at 56 trips between February of '94 and the present. Twenty-four of the trips had media lists attached. We do not keep track of who requested, they just had lists of who had actually traveled, and not too surprisingly, I guess, AP, Reuters and AFP traveled the most. And of the major TV networks, the list is not perfect, but ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC traveled 5, 1, 11, 2, and 4 times. So it's not a perfect list, but the usual suspects do travel most of the time.
McCarthy: Tom McCarthy, L.A. Times. When will we know who else is in the group, in your group? You mentioned that the TV networks have decided to work out some system among themselves. Such a system hasn't been worked out on the newspapers.
Clarke: Right. I think Owen had brought it up a couple of weeks ago. From my perspective if newspapers, news organizations want to organize themselves, God love you, but we can't get in that business. I don't know if it's practical for you all. The networks did theirs on their own. But I guess we'll know who's in the categories once they declare themselves, right? Some of them are pretty obvious.
Voice: The idea is they would be somehow numerically organized and then you would work through the list each time for each trip before going to the top?
Clarke: And if somebody's number has come up, and they're on the trip to Dubuque and they decide we're not going to go to Dubuque, then they drop to the bottom of the list next time. They give up their slot.
Voice: Let's say you had six newspapers on the list. If you had six trips, each one of them would go the same number of times.
Clarke: Theoretically, yes.
Voice: Being one wouldn't necessarily put you in any better shape than being number five or number six.
Voice: And a day trip to St. Louis counts the same as one of these big international trips.
Clarke: I don't know how we can do it any differently. And part of it is the unpredictability of the secretary's travel schedule. We don't travel a whole lot. It would start to get awfully complex and people would start picking and choosing, saying I want to be on these lists but not those. So I don't see how we can separate them. And quite frankly, I think they're just as important. They're just as important.
Lewis: That's exactly the way the White House works --
Ullmann: What's the e-mail for getting back to you again?
Clarke: So I'm sure it's not perfect, but it does pretty accurately reflect interests, concerns. It definitely reflects a lot of inputs. So for those of you who were willing to have conversation after conversation after conversation, thank you very much. We know it's been painful for you all too.
Lewis: Torie, thanks for being available to us.
Clarke: Oh, sure. That's what we're here for. Anything else? We have nothing else for our agenda today.
Robin Sproul [ABC]: Any tapes being released in ten minutes? (Laughter)
Clarke: We are out of the transcript business. We are out of the transcript business. Let me repeat. All right. Thank you guys.