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McChrystal Affair Risks Military-Media Trust: Journalist

Jun 23, 2010

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During a discussion of the McChrystal affair on NPR's Diane Rehm Show Wednesday, James Kitfield, a senior correspondent for National Journal, made a point that no doubt has crossed the mind of many reporters who cover the military — the fallout from the infamous Rolling Stone piece has just made their jobs harder.

The takeaway for many senior military officers is likely to be that there's only a downside to talking with the media so why bother?

KITFIELD: There will be no embeds in Afghanistan in higher headquarters... for quite a while. This has probably set back the reporting quite a ways because the trust between the military and the media has just been shot out of the water.

Kitfield is probably right. It took decades following the Vietnam War for the mutual distrust between the military and media to be broken down. Many in the military blamed the media for losing the war.

While the wariness was never completely gone, and there were good reasons for at least some suspicion to remain, reporters embedded with units in Iraq and Afghanistan have often reported back approvingly to colleagues back home about the access they've received. The ice had melted.

But many generals and other senior officers will now likely think twice about giving reporters the kind of access Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings had.

The fear from reporters' perspective is that officers will conclude it's already tough enough to fight a difficult war without risking a public relations disaster if they should, like McChrystal, make the mistake of saying something impolitic to a reporter while on the record.

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