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Clarke Interview with Japanese Broadcasting Corporation

Presenter: Victoria Clarke ASD (PA)
March 15, 2002

(Interview with Japanese Broadcasting Corporation (NHK))

Q: The first question is how do you see the relationship and the media during the airstrikes in Afghanistan? When they started.

Clarke: When things first started?

Q: Yes.

Clarke: Actually I think there was a critical moment in terms of the relationship between the Pentagon and the media, or September 11th when the planes hit the World Trade Center and the plane hit our building, because most of the people left the building, had to be evacuated. The Secretary and a handful of people stayed here and he was working and operating from the building. It was filled with smoke, alarms going off for hours but he stayed in the building.

What was really important was to get the information that the Pentagon was working, that the Secretary was working, was in close contact with his colleagues in the Administration, the important thing was to get that information out to the media so they could tell the American people and the world.

Communication was very difficult but we managed via cell phones and other ways to reach some of our people in the media who had gathered at a site about a quarter of a mile, half a mile up the hill outside the Pentagon. It was actually at a gas station.

So we would call out with what information we had, what knowledge we had to the people out there, including Admiral Quigley who was one of our spokesmen, and he would brief the media on the spot and they were covering it live and they were doing their standup interviews from that site.

So for the first six or seven hours that's how we got the news and information out. It was a remarkable example of people really working together under very difficult circumstances.

I think that was a critical moment in this relationship because clearly that was a very unconventional day. It's not what you'd expect. This whole war has been very unconventional and the willingness and ability of people to work under very difficult circumstances, there's often a tension, but being willing to work together and try to figure out how can we both do our jobs is really important.

From the very beginning of the military operations in Afghanistan it's been a challenge. It's a very unconventional war. We're going against people who don't have armies, navies and air forces so you don't have the huge numbers of soldiers that you had, for instance, in the Persian Gulf War. For several weeks we didn't have more than a handful of people actually on the ground in Afghanistan. The primary activity was coming from the aircraft carriers or coming from bases in the region. So what we did was facilitate media access to those aircraft carriers, to those places where we could get permission for media to be in different countries and facilitate the coverage from those places. It was unusual, it was difficult.

Some were more comfortable with the accommodations than others. I'd say if I had to characterize the relationship, in general we do very well with what we call the traditional defense correspondents, the media that covers defense on a regular basis. It understands the sensitivities. We will have problems and challenges sometimes, quite honestly, with people who don't cover us on a regular basis and don't really understand the need to protect operational security or the need to make sure people's lives don't get put at risk.

But in general it's a pretty good working relationship, it's a constant tension, but people are pretty committed to making it work.

Q: Between the Pentagon and the news media, or international media especially, the news media, we see the relationship as one nice theme, as clearly helping each other understanding --

Clarke: For the most part. As in any relationship we have our problems and we have our issues but for the most part it's quite good.

One of the things we've done here is we meet regularly with the Bureau Chiefs, with the heads of the major news organizations -- the newspapers, the networks, the broadcast and cable networks, the photo organizations. We meet regularly with them to discuss upcoming issues, are there any problems that we need to address, are there areas we need to be working more on, are there areas they need to be working on. And it's a good thing to do. We tend to address the problems when they're small before they become large. So on an ongoing basis we're constantly working that relationship.

Q: Are you happy with how the relationship works or --

Clarke: Very much so. It's tempting, especially in the United States it's tempting for people to say the media's terrible or I can't believe they did this or that. Our experience has been that the media in general, especially the Pentagon press corps has done a very good job of working in very unusual circumstances. So in general we've been quite pleased. There is a natural healthy tension and I think that's important. In a free society in this country we care deeply about the ability to defend ourselves, providing for the common defense as the preamble to the Constitution says.

We care deeply about the rights of a free press. It's managing that relationship that's important, but in general we're pretty pleased with the way it's going.

Q: How about the media like CNN, (unintelligible) in the national. He himself decided there should be a certain bar as to how they present or cover news.

Clarke: Right.

Q: Did this help?

Clarke: I don't study the individual networks enough to say one is tilting this way or one is tilting that way. I remember when he said that there was a lot of coverage on it. To me it's just common sense. You would want your coverage to be fair and to be valid so I think it's just common sense. I think it's what people expect of the news media of the country.

Q: I think what made the success, success in terms of information management, working with the media. Was there (unintelligible)?

Clarke: There have been several. There have been several instances. I might get the order wrong, but for instance the first time we put significant numbers of troops on the ground in Afghanistan, more than one or two at a time, the media went in with the first wave. When the Marines went into Kandahar the media was right there with them.

Some weeks after that we did something that has never been done before in terms of U.S. military conflict, and we embedded members of the media with the Special Operations Forces teams. These are the highly trained, largely covert forces that work in very unusual circumstances and very challenging circumstances. The media had never accompanied them before in operations. They went with them. We had five or six different media organizations represented in five or six different special operations forces teams. That was pretty extraordinary.

The first night, it was in October, October 19th there was a raid in Afghanistan. Special Forces went in the middle of the night. They brought back combat camera footage, which we showed the next day from here in the Pentagon briefing room. Chairman Myers stood up and briefed the historic footage.

So there have been several firsts that I think years from now history will look back and say okay, not everybody was completely happy but some pretty remarkable things in terms of coverage occurred during this unconventional war.

Q: The relevance of that, the restrictions since -- You don't know where terrorists are on the trail or

Clarke: Right.

Q: So the restriction as to how much coverage (unintelligible) the U.S. --

Clarke: Right.

Q: Or share with the press. The restriction was pretty tight. But there was also understanding from the (unintelligible) that because of the situation they understood. And did you feel always their operation, the understanding of the situation and --

Clarke: Most of the time. And I would say the restrictions were focused. If there was information that by being revealed would put somebody's life at risk, or it would hinder or harm an ongoing operation, then we held onto that pretty closely. Most of the time the media understands and respects that. So most of the time folks were pretty comfortable with that.

My experience has been when you get to some of the media that aren't really familiar with the way military operations take place or you deal with some of the analysts who work downtown from their armchairs, say this isn't working, that isn't working, you've got some issues with them. But the majority of the time I think people understand and they're very sensitive to it.

As I said, we try very hard to facilitate as much media access as possible and as much media coverage as possible. It's in our interest to do so.

The more information people have about this unconventional war the more they'll understand it and they'll support what it is we're trying to accomplish. So to the greatest extent possible we try to facilitate the coverage. In those narrow lanes where you have to guard information to protect people's lives, to protect the operational security, we'll do it.

Q: How do you handle the relationship or the partnership between the U.S. and -- I shouldn't say the U.S. The Pentagon and the U.S. media compared to the Gulf War.

Clarke: I wasn't here for the Persian Gulf War. I was working in the previous Bush Administration the U.S. Trade Representatives Office, so I was kind of watching it from afar. It was, and I think it had its share of problems. I think there were some issues that the media had with how the Pentagon was working with them. But it was a very different war.

In the Persian Gulf War you had a long buildup. You had a lot of advance notice and warning of what was going to happen. You had a lot of buildup and it was relatively easy to facilitate a lot of coverage. When the war itself took place you had armies, navies, air forces operating in huge numbers and any time you have large numbers like that it's easier to embed more media, it's easier to have open coverage. So very different circumstances. We have a very different kind of war.

But one of the challenges has been getting people to say okay, that weren't a frame of reference, but this is a different circumstance and we have to act differently. That's been one of the challenges, to get people to look forward rather than looking back ten years and saying this is how we did it then.

Q: The relationship with the media, the present, what is (unintelligible)?

Clarke: I think the majority of the people who cover this building and cover the Pentagon tend to be the best in journalism. These are people who covered us before September 11th so it wasn't just because it was the big story. They covered it because they like the issues, they have a lot of respect for the military, and they're interested in what this place does. So they tend to be very professional and very responsible.

I feel very confident under Secretary Rumsfeld's leadership, he understands and appreciates the importance of what they do so he values the role they play in a free society, and he wants to make sure they can operate where they ought to be able to operate. So there's an awful lot of respect coming from both sides and I think that contributes to a pretty healthy relationship.

Q: (unintelligible)

Clarke: You'd have to ask the media. I know there have been some highly publicized speeches or remarks given by some of the big media gurus, if you will. Tim Russert from NBC of Meet the Press gave a speech a few months ago saying that American journalists really should remember that they're Americans, those sorts of things. And somewhat controversial at the time, but I think a lot of people probably feel that way. How much they actually show it and demonstrate it openly, I don't know.

Q: Thank you very much.