Posted 5:28 p.m. April 10
by Patrick W. Higgins
U-WIRE (DC BUREAU)
(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld denied ever lying to the press and expressed his belief in the importance of keeping classified information out of the public spotlight in an interview at the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ annual conference this week.
Rumsfeld maintained a lighthearted mood as moderator Marvin Kalb confronted him on the Pentagon’s role in the freedom of the press in time of war. In one particular instance, Kalb bluntly asked the defense secretary if he had ever lied to the press.
“I’ve never had any reason to lie to the press, or even felt the desire to,” Rumsfeld responded, “because all you have is your credibility.”
Kalb then turned the interview towards alleged internal investigations by the Department of Defense into Pentagon employees who may have leaked classified information to reporters. The defense secretary adamantly denied any role in polygraph tests of government officials, though he did express his contempt of Defense Department personnel who leak classified information to the general public.
“I don’t get furious, I get cruel,” Rumsfeld said. “When a person takes classified information and tells it to someone who isn’t cleared for it, that person is violating federal law and ought to go to jail.”
Kalb pressed the defense secretary further, recanting various accounts of Rumsfeld’s “chilling” effect on Pentagon press relations. Kalb cited one Pentagon employee who said that government officials were just now, seven months after the terrorists’ attacks in New York City and Washington, beginning to even speak to reporters again.
In a moment of humor, Rumsfeld said, “If that’s the case, I better get back down there [the Pentagon briefing area].”
Shifting the focus of the interview to the current war on terrorism, Kalb probed the defense secretary with questions concerning reporters’ rights inside Afghanistan. Rumsfeld replied that reporters were allowed, without restriction, to enter and explore Afghanistan. If they wanted to travel with American troops however, they must respect certain conditions that the U.S. Military has set.
“The fact that the press wishes for more information doesn’t make them bad people,” Rumsfeld said, “but there is almost no level to which you can push the press where they won’t want more.”
On the topic of free access to the battlefield, Rumsfeld claimed to provide the press with more access than ever before. He did stated however, that certain countries in the Middle East allow the United States to conduct missions from their military bases on the condition that the rest of the world does not find out, hence the need for some discretion.
“We put the press in connection with the U.S. troops right away. There are reporters on ships and special forces units, where I don’t think they have ever been before.”
Rumsfeld defended his reasoning behind limitations on the press in war zones by claiming that terrorists often place hospital patients in previously bombed buildings, and then tell the reporters that American warplanes destroyed a hospital.
The defense secretary then field questions from the audience, which consisted of approximately 300 newspaper editors from around the country.
In response to questions on the status of the war on terrorism, Rumsfeld said, “It’s a whole new experience for this country to not go against armies and navies but against terrorist organizations.But the pressure is working, I feel quite good about the first phase.”
When asked about a plan for the war by a newspaper editor from Albany, Georgia, the defense secretary simply said that the plan is to go after terrorism wherever it is found.
“There was no road map available to the president or me on Sept. 11,” he said.
The interview was the 27 edition of the Kalb report, a series sponsored by The George Washington University, The Shorenstein Center for Politics at Harvard University, and the National Press Club and was held at the Marriot Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.