Gates Thanks Media for Critical Watchdog Role

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) 

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