WASHINGTON, June 16, 2011 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today thanked reporters for their service as watchdogs for the American public and for bringing to light some problems that hadn’t been raised by the Pentagon’s vast bureaucracy.
Gates came to office in December 2006 proclaiming that the media “is not the enemy” and vowing to work to improve the Pentagon’s relationship with the press.
“When I first took office, I worried that relations between the Pentagon, the military and the press, while always difficult, mostly were characterized by mutual suspicion and resentment,” he said. “So I made it a point when speaking to military officers — from cadets to generals — to remind them that a vigorous, inquisitive and even skeptical press was a critically important guarantor of freedom under the Constitution, and not to be treated as the enemy.”
During his first commencement address as defense secretary to the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2007, Gates urged graduates to “remember the importance of two pillars of our freedom under the Constitution: the Congress and the press.”
“The press is not the enemy and to treat it as such is self-defeating,” he told the graduates in May 2007, calling the media “a critically important guarantor of our freedom.”
Gates told reporters today he came to truly appreciate the media’s accountability role early in his tenure after newspaper reports exposed two “glaring bureaucratic shortcomings.”
One involved outpatient treatment of wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the other, resistance to purchasing life-saving mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles for deployed troops.
“Responding to both of these critical issues, which only came to my attention through the media, became my top priority and two of my earliest and most-significant management decisions,” Gates said.
The secretary conceded that he hasn’t always liked the media reporters he has read over the past four-and-a-half years and he still hates leaks — perhaps even more than others in government.
“But I have great respect for your role as a watchdog on behalf of the American people and as a means for me to learn of problems that the building was not telling me about,” he told the reporters.
“I know we don’t always make it easy to do your jobs here,” he recognized. “Gaining timely and usable information out of the bureaucracy and their gatekeepers is always a challenge — a challenge that I’ve shared with you on occasion. So thanks again for your professional, tough questions and hard work.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)