U.S. military drops contract profiling reporters

Journalists run at the site of a gunfight between gunmen and Afghan police in Kabul on August 20.
A U.S. military contract that drew fire for creating profiles to rate the output of journalists as well as coverage of the Afghanistan war is being terminated, according to U.S. military officials.

The U.S. military had contracted with the public-relations firm The Rendon Group, which created profiles of journalists that rated their stories as “positive,” “neutral” or “negative.” The military said it did not use the ratings to influence coverage or deny reporters access to cover the war. “It was clear this issue had become a distraction to our main mission here,” according to Rear Adm. Greg Smith, head of communications for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. “This does not imply that we found any improprieties. In fact, our use of the contract since my arrival in June was completely appropriate and in no way exemplified the allegations made by Stars and Stripes.” The flap started last week when Stars and Stripes — an independent newspaper aimed at U.S. troops but partially funded by the U.S. government — reported it had obtained documents prepared for the U.S. military on contract by the Washington-based communications firm that analyzed journalists’ work. The paper had also said the contractor was looking for ways to put a positive spin on stories.

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Rendon was working with the U.S. military’s communications division in Afghanistan analyzing media coverage of military operations. Reporter profiles, officials said, were to give commanders some background on who would be interviewing them or embedding with their units. Stars and Stripes said differently and reported it had documentation showing reporter profiles from last year were used to limit access of journalists who had produced unfavorable coverage of U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan. A statement on the Web site of The Rendon Group said the company does not recommend to the military which journalists should be granted or denied access.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that while the Pentagon makes the media policy for the military, commands around the world are able to make decisions on their own on how to approach media planning. He said it does not appear that any policy violation has occurred with The Rendon Group contract.