The Biden administration is being criticized for refusing to allow journalists to integrate with US forces outside Ukraine as the threat of a Russian invasion looms.
Pentagon Press Secretary John KirbyJohn KirbyUS fighter jets land in Poland overnight Defense and National Security – Defense gets deal to help civilians evacuate Top Russian commander arrives in Belarus for war games MORE was asked several times this week by reporters in the Pentagon briefing room and on television about the decision, which he said was to make room for diplomacy between Western and Russian officials, an effort which has so far failed.
“Many factors go into deciding how we manage media access. Some of these decisions are very difficult to make. We take this very seriously, and right now we’re trying to balance many factors in terms of time and space for diplomacy,” Kirby told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” Wednesday night.
But with more than 100,000 Kremlin troops already stationed on the Ukrainian border, with about 2,000 more added in the past 24 hours, a full-scale invasion could take place within weeks, US officials say.
With such an imminent threat, journalists say, it is imperative to have reporters placed alongside the 3,000 US troops sent to Eastern Europe to ensure full transparency.
“American journalists, Pentagon reporters have been embedded with military troops … in all these recent conflicts in recent years. I don’t understand why you don’t want transparency,” Blitzer told Kirby.
Blitzer is not the only journalist to insist on the issue.
Earlier Wednesday, the Pentagon Press Association sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security – Defense gets deal to help civilians evacuate Michael Bloomberg to head Defense Innovation Board Air Force grants 9 religious exemptions for vaccine mandate MORE and National Security Advisor JakeSullivanJake SullivanOvernight Defense & National Security—Top Commander Speaks Out on Afghan Evacuation White House Says It Will Hold Houthis Responsible for Attack on Saudi Arabia demanding that journalists be allowed to integrate with US troops sent across the Atlantic, a particularly important move for Americans whose relatives serve, they argued.
“The public in a democratic society deserves independent media coverage of their sons and daughters in uniform, and that cannot be assured today without first-hand, on-the-ground information about troop activities in Europe,” he said. writes the board of directors of the association.
On the same day, the National Press Club and several media – including the New York Times, ABC News, Time, Stars and Stripes and the Military Times – also urged the Department of Defense “to allow access to journalists so that ‘they can rightfully keep the American public and the families of our troops informed.
The Military Reporters and Editors Association made a similar official request in Austin last week.
“By allowing journalists and photographers to show what life is like for American troops on land, in the air and at sea, the Pentagon will help the American public understand the responsibilities and sacrifices that service members and their families make,” writes the group.
The Biden administration announced earlier this month that some 3,000 American troops would be sent to Poland, Romania and Germany to bolster NATO’s eastern flank as the Kremlin marshals more than 100,000 of its forces to the Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus.
Western nations fear that Russia’s continued military buildup – as well as joint war games with Belarus that began this month – could signal an invasion of Ukraine in the coming weeks, similar to its entry into the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
As US troops head to the region and several thousand others on heightened alert for potential deployments, White House and Pentagon reporters are looking for specific reasons for the stalled integration.
Asked on Wednesday why the Pentagon has not yet committed to media integration, the White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden Says He Rejects Findings of Army’s Afghanistan Report The Hill’s Morning Report – Featured by Facebook – More blue states are letting mask warrants expire said she “should dig a little deeper” but that “our overall approach” has been to support the integration of journalists into US forces, generally.
At the Pentagon the same day, Kirby — the official charged with deciding whether to allow such integrations — deflected multiple questions about why he hadn’t given the go-ahead to place journalists alongside troops.
“Any decision to provide media access to our troops…is a decision we take seriously,” Kirby said. “There are a lot of factors that come into play. … But we’re always looking to find the best type of coverage for this particular mission.
“I find it hard to understand how less transparency reflects the national security interests of a nation that promotes press freedom around the world,” Nancy Youssef, National Security Correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, told AFP. Kirby later in the briefing.
Asked on Thursday whether the Pentagon had made any changes to its position, a Pentagon spokesperson told The Hill that they could offer nothing more at this time other than what Mr. Kirby said.
American journalists have traveled alongside American forces in the conflict since at least World War II, but the level of access has varied greatly over the years.
During the Vietnam War, journalists had considerable access to deployed troops and their operations until some officials began to believe that the coverage – which showed the real and endless nature of the battles – was undermining the conflict.
Then, in the 1990s, the modern onboarding program, created under the George HW Bush administration, brought journalists together in press pools, but generally kept them away from the action.
In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, however, as many as 775 journalists traveled with units to see the action, an effort to help sway public opinion in favor of the war.
On Wednesday, when reporters pointed out that war correspondents had been sent alongside troops before the invasion of Iraq – a conflict before which diplomacy was also emphasized – Kirby said it was not a fair comparison.
“It’s a modest number of forces that (…) are moving to reassure the allies,” he said of the current situation.