It’s Been Over 300 Days Since a Pentagon Press Briefing. That Should Concern All Americans — Including the Military
For about six months now, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has used her briefing room so little that officials might as well turn it back into the swimming pool it was more than a half century ago. But she’s not the only one who has abandoned this post. Apparently taking the lead from the White House, the Pentagon has gone more than 300 days since the last time an official spokesperson stood up and gave an on-camera briefing to the press. This is a critical failure by the Department of Defense, which should be able and willing to explain to taxpayers what they are doing with the nearly $700 billion that they are entrusted with each year.
Increasingly, under the guise of security, defense officials have been close-mouthed — not just failing to show up at the briefing room lectern but even refusing to confirm the identity of senior officials given prominent assignments for fear of cyber attacks. All of this is in keeping with President Trump’s penchant for “surprise,” and while we of course want to avoid revealing the nation’s secrets, the system is tightening up to excess. Moreover, there seems to be a growing notion that dealing with the media is an annoyance, and the public should simply trust the government.
Based on my seven years as a four-star commander leading operations in two very distinct global theaters, this runs counter to good strategy, operations and tactics. We need to think about the advantages of our government leaders — especially our military and intelligence teams — having an open stance toward the press.
First and most obviously, we ought to set an example of integrity, honesty and accountability for both within and beyond our government. Given the importance of the military’s life-or-death missions, and its longstanding traditions of duty and honor, it is Defense’s duty to lead the way. It can set that example best by being forthcoming when queried, admitting when we make mistakes and demonstrating the ability to recover, even as we have an appropriate level of accountability. The Navy’s handling of the two major collisions in 2017 — enforcing ruthless accountability by firing much of the chain of command up to the most senior admirals, while providing a transparent process throughout — is a fairly good example of this, but it is becoming more the exception than the rule.
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TIME - James Stavridis