How to Deal With the Media Denying Access Is Probably Not a Good Idea
A great family friend was Stan Swinton, World Service vice president of the Associated Press—a brilliant, hard-driving, hard-living charmer, who spent much of his life on jet planes and knew just about everyone worth knowing in 104 countries.
At some point during the Vietnam War on a pub-crawl with Stan, I asked why reporters covering the White House frequently lobbed softball questions at the president.
“Access,” he replied. “The government has the power to deny access. If you don’t have access, you do get news.”
I thought about it and realized that no access means no presidential press conferences, no trips on Air Force 1, no battlefield credentials no Pentagon briefings. Sans credentials, a reporter—and his news organization—are nose-to-window-pane on the outside looking in and forced to settle for pool coverage and sloppy seconds.
This week, reporters from The Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald and The Charlotte Observer, along with a photographer, were sent packing from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in the wake of suicides by suspected terrorists.
A series of PR debacles associated with the Iraq War has made the Pentagon gun-shy of the media. Among recent examples: Abu Ghraib, the alleged murders of civilians at al-Haditha, the Gitmo suicides and this past Monday’s charges that three 101st Airborne Division troops killed Iraqi prisoners.
War is a high-stakes game. Worldwide passions can be inflamed by scoop-happy reporters more interested in getting the news out rather than getting it right.
When the Pentagon clamps down, it generally has good reasons. It’s imperative to get the whole story and react with a measured response, rather than allowing bits and pieces to come out, grow legs, feast on rumor and innuendo, and foul the scene.
In the private sector, denying access can backfire big time.
The Kansas City Royals vs. WHB and KCSP
Rhonda Moss of KCSP and Bob Fescoe of WHB worked for competing Kansas City, Mo., sports-talk radio stations and covered the Royals baseball team on a full-time basis. Early in June they attended a press conference held by the team’s management, where they fired questions at the owner, David Glass, who found them hostile.