WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Gates and the Press

June 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm Leave a comment

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Robert Gates, The Long Goodbye

U.S. Navy photo

We saw an interesting, brief item on POLITICO this morning on U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ last scheduled press conference at the Pentagon.

Gates, who is retiring at the end of the month – after four-and-a-half years as head of the Defense Department – had some words of praise for the Pentagon press corps, calling reporters a “watchdog on behalf of the American people.”

Gates conceded that for Pentagon reporters who have been traveling with him in recent weeks to a series of command headquarters, forward operating bases, ships and airfields, it’s been The Long Goodbye.

In Washington, like most other places, people on their way out tend to say nice or at least respectful things about those they’ve worked with. While he did not have a stormy relationship with the press as did his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld did, Gates admitted he didn’t always like what he read in the press – especially if the information was leaked by someone within the Pentagon (transcript).

Defense Dept. photo

However, Gates said he gained an appreciation for the “important accountability role” the press plays early in his tenure when newspaper reports exposed what he called “two glaring bureaucratic shortcomings,” in the outpatient treatment of wounded troops at Walter Reed Hospital and resistance to purchasing armored vehicles, known as MRAPs, to protect troops from roadside bombs in Iraq.

It was because of his swift response to those issues – he fired the Army secretary and rushed more MRAPS into the field – as well as other steps to hold Pentagon leaders accountable that impelled this 4GWAR editor, when he worked at Aviation Week,  to recommend Gates as the magazine’s 2008 Person of the Year. Among Gates’ actions cited in the cover story, his push for more unmanned aerial vehicles to provide field commanders with needed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data.

But Gates has his critics, in and out of the press. One is Winslow Wheeler, a former Senate staffer and defense budget expert who has been a congressional-military-industrial complex gadfly. In an essay at AOL Defense, Wheeler, who is director of the Straus Military Reform Project for a Washington think tank, the Center for Defense Information, takes Gates to task for the opportunities he missed including real reform of the way the Pentagon keeps track of the billions it spends.

It’s time for you be the judge of Gates’ legacy. Please tell us what you think — either in the comment box below or by emailing us at:



Entry filed under: National Security and Defense, Washington, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , .

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