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Editors’ Group Pushes for Revised Pentagon Combat Coverage Rules

October 17, 1991

DETROIT (AP) _ Both the press and the military have room for improvement in war coverage, a leading defense correspondent told the Associated Press Managing Editors association Thursday.

A panel discussion on press pools and war coverage opened APME’s 57th annual meeting here.

″The military has a lot to do to get its house in order, but first we have to get our house in order,″ said Washington Post defense correspondent Molly Moore.

She said some problems reporters faced during the Gulf War resulted from disputes among themselves.

News executives are working with the Defense Department to draw up, by March, new coverage guidelines to allow more freedom in reporting military conflicts.

″This is an effort by responsible press members to see that war coverage is what the public deserves,″ said Louis D. Boccardi, president and chief executive officer of The Associated Press, a leader of the media effort.

The APME is an organization of news executives from the 1,542 member newspapers of the AP, the world’s largest newsgathering organization.

Boccardi said government ″minders″ who accompanied reporters in the field during the Gulf War often interfered during interviews and improperly inserted themselves in the news process.

″The pool system was designed to facilitate coverage,″ Boccardi said. ″The pool coverage as it happened in the Gulf obstructed coverage.″

The military’s representative on the panel said broadcast reports of the location of Scud missile landings and announcements of when planes took off for bombing missions could have jeopardized troops’ safety.

″If we were working with a more sophisticated enemy that didn’t have its primary communications systems knocked out, that could have caused some major security problems,″ said Maj. Olin Saunders, chief of media relations for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.

Former Defense Department spokesman Winant Sidle said some problems the press faced may have been caused by an excess of reporters on the scene.

″Is there any way the press can limit the number of reporters so there isn’t a gaggle of reporters running around the battlefield?″ Sidle asked.

Boccardi said the number of reporters wanting to go into the battlefield was far less than the 1,500 reporters the Pentagon said were covering the Gulf War.

″I don’t think the numbers are much of a basis for argument. It wasn’t anywhere near what the Pentagon was saying,″ Boccardi said.

Moore said reporters who had covered the military in the past were treated better and given preference by the military over those with no military reporting experience.

″In the future, we should think about sending out experts, instead of egos,″ she said.

Bill Winter, president and executive director of the American Press Institute, said problems with broadcast reports also cause problems for the print media because the public doesn’t differentiate between the two forms.

Boccardi and 16 other news executives wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in June asking for more freedom in covering combat. On Sept. 12, six news executives met with Cheney to discuss their dissatisfaction with press restrictions during the Gulf War and to suggest ideas on improving coverage of wars.

A group of six Washington bureau chiefs is holding meetings with Defense Department officials to come up with the new guidelines.

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