Defense Department Reinforces Importance of Accurate Communication
By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2008 In a recent letter to combatant commanders and public affairs officials throughout the Defense Department, the department’s top public affairs official stressed the importance of credible communication and reinforced the department’s policy on altering images.
“Release of accurate and timely information to the public is a commander’s responsibility and impacts military operations by helping the public and Congress understand defense strategy, defense policy and national security issues,” Robert T. Hastings, the principal deputy assistant defense secretary for public affairs, said in the letter.
The policy reminder was sparked by recent controversy over a digitally altered photo of Army Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, who became the U.S. military’s first female four-star general during a Pentagon ceremony Nov. 14.
The photograph was distributed by the Army and ran on the Associated Press photo wire Nov. 13, but was pulled when a news service photography director in San Antonio noticed changes.
The altered image showed Dunwoody posing in front of an American flag and wearing her uniform, which had four stars on each side of her collar. The original image is of Dunwoody with three stars on her collar, sitting behind a desk in front of a bookshelf.
As a result, the AP banned the use of all Defense Department images on its service.
Army officials said the image did not misrepresent or change facts, therefore, did not violate any policy. Officials do not know where the photo was released from, but believe it did not come from an Army public affairs or visual information office.
However, Hastings stressed that the issue is not limited to public affairs or visual information communities, because of the “widespread use of digital cameras and image-editing software.”
In the letter, he said any servicemember can “easily manipulate photos for what may seem to be harmless purposes. Such alterations can and do have wide-ranging negative consequences, because they change the factual content captured by the camera and call into question the truthfulness of other [Defense Department] imagery,” he explained.
Hastings referenced the department’s policy that prohibits image alterations, citing that any modification that weakens or questions the credibility of official defense imagery -- within or outside the department -- is prohibited.
The AP lifted its ban Nov. 21.