In a Twitter posting, Hastings wrote, “to clarify @AP story: the embed had already been approved for september. now it has been disapproved.” He apparently was working on a story about helicopters and asked for the embed a month ago. The Pentagon acknowledged Tuesday that it had denied the request.
According to the Associated Press, Col. David Lapan “acknowledged that it’s ‘fairly rare’ for the military to turn way a reporter who wants to embed with front-line troops. ‘There is no right to embed,’ Lapan said. ‘It is a choice made between units and individual reporters, and a key element of an embed is having trust that the individuals are going to abide by the ground rules. So in that instance the command in Afghanistan decided there wasn’t the trust requisite and denied this request.’”
But Hastings says the embed was approved, which would show there was “the trust requisite” for at least someone in the military at one point.
Lapan’s vague use of lack of trust as a reason for denying an embed indicates a Pentagon public affairs office that will use this type of reasoning now and in the future to deny access to the troops in Afghanistan – or elsewhere – to any reporter who has written a story that someone in the chain of command finds annoying.
That is a serious precedent. If the military has no evidence that Hastings violated his embed agreement on a previous trip, the Pentagon ought to follow its own rules on his current embed request and approve it.
When Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced new rules requiring military officers and Pentagon officials to notify Gates’ public affairs shop before talking to reporters, a policy announced shortly after Hastings’ article was published, the secretary emphasized that he has often found news reports helpful, “a spur to action” to fix problems like the Walter Reed Army Medical Center problems a few years ago.
“This is not about you,” Gates said of those rules. “This is about us.”
The retaliatory attitude toward Hastings would seem to indicate otherwise.