Military Election Day Policy: Censor Reporters

Writing on the military paper’s blog (11/5/08), Stars and Stripes ombud Dave Mazzarella tears down the Pentagon reasoning from trying to block reporters from having contact with military personnel on Election Day:

What servicemembers say while in uniform can be construed as a position of the Department of Defense, the officials said. No matter that servicemembers, identified by name, rank and location, express themselves regularly in letters to the editor of newspapers and in blogs. No matter that every DOD restriction placed on uniformed servicemembers with respect to politics speaks explicitly of “official capacity” actions–giving a speech, writing a column, being active in a political event such as a demonstration. No matter that Congress has clearly stated that both Stars and Stripes and “military personnel on the frontiers of freedom” must be protected by the free speech provisions of the First Amendment.

As it turns out, except for at some bases in Pacific Asia, “Stripes staffers…were able to observe the election night atmosphere on base.” But Mazzarella says “the difficulty with this unnecessary policy edict is not with how it played out around the world last night, but in any precedent officials see it as setting. It needs to be rolled back.”

Footnote: Mazzarella wrote that Pentagon officials offered as a justification for censoring Stripes the fact that “commercial media were not being allowed to go on bases to cover election reaction.” Any outlets that had legitimate newsgathering efforts thwarted by the Pentagon ought to speak up about it.