Staffers at McClatchy’s Washington, D.C., Bureau — one of the few major news outlets skeptical of intelligence reports during the run-up to the war in Iraq — claims it is now being punished for that coverage.
Bureau Chief John Walcott and current and former McClatchy Pentagon correspondents say they have not been allowed on the Defense Secretary’s plane for at least three years, claiming the news company is being retaliated against for its reporting.
“It is because our coverage of Iraq policy has been quite critical,” Walcott told E&P. He added, “I think the idea of public officials barring coverage by people they’ve decided they don’t like is at best unprofessional, at worst undemocratic and petty.”
Jonathan Landay, a former Pentagon correspondent and one of the co-authors of McClatchy’s pre-war coverage, said he last traveled on the plane with then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2004 to Istanbul, Turkey, for a NATO economic summit. Since then, he says, none of McClatchy’s people have flown. “It is unusual because we get aboard about two out of three trips [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice makes,” Landay said. “They have a different policy at the Pentagon. We are definitely being discriminated against.”
Drew Brown, who covered the Pentagon on several occasions between 2002 and 2007 before leaving McClatchy for Stars and Stripes, claimed he was never allowed to travel with Rumsfeld or current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who took over several months ago. “I asked a couple of times, and they gave me a non-committal answer,” Brown said. “The Department of Defense took the outlets they were able to influence, the wire [services] and the big newspapers. I don’t think they really care about anyone outside the Washington Beltway.”
Nancy Youssef, a former McClatchy Baghdad bureau chief who took over the Pentagon beat April 9, said Gates has been on four trips since she arrived and she has been denied access to all of them. “They just sort of brushed it off,” she said. “I bring it up every time, and every time it doesn’t happen.”
NYTimes columnist Nicholas Kristof had a similar experience.
In December, the White House held an event to call attention to malaria. But Mr. Bush’s staff barred me from attending: They apparently didn’t want coverage of malaria if it came from a columnist they didn’t like.