EARLY BIRD GROUNDED
The Pentagon recently ended its widely read news clipping service known as the Early Bird, citing the availability of online electronic news outlets.
Army Col. Steve Warren, director of Pentagon press operations, stated in a memo disclosed by the Pentagon’s American Forces Press Service that canceling the clipping service after 48 years was based on the availability of online news.
“Early in our careers, there was no way to know what was being written in the major newspapers unless we had physical access to those publications. The Early Bird was our source of information,” Col. Warren stated. “Today, anyone can view anything written in real time from nearly any spot on Earth.”
Larry Di Rita, former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said the cancellation is long overdue.
“It turned out to be easier to cancel outdated weapon systems and close unneeded military installations than it was to finally save the taxpayer some money by stopping the practice of one set of government employees cutting out newspaper articles for another set of government employees,” Mr. Di Rita told Inside the Ring.
Most of the articles carried by the Early Bird — read by thousands of policymakers, officials and military officers — were republished from The Washington Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers.
However, in recent years the clipping service came under criticism from some who said its selection of content was politicized under the Obama administration. Stories from conservative-oriented publications often were omitted, while material from liberal news outlets and blogs — and even stories by state-controlled Chinese media — began appearing.
For example, Inside the Ring for many years was a staple. It appeared in the Early Bird every week until July 2011, when the column was blocked from further publication.
Questioned about the matter, Harold Heilsnis, an Early Bird supervisor, denied that political pressure from the Obama administration was behind the action.
“I, as supervisor, (we are all civil servants) read it every week and make an independent call whether to include it in the Early Bird or not,” Mr. Heilsnis said in an email from 2011.
However, Mr. Heilsnis and other Pentagon officials could not explain why the Ring column that appeared every week continuously for years abruptly stopped appearing.
The Obama administration since 2009 has dispatched political aides to most public affairs offices throughout government. Many of these aides worked for President Obama’s election and re-election campaigns and are viewed by career public affairs officials as the U.S. equivalent of communist political commissars who rigidly enforce the administration’s political agenda in dealing with the press.
Bill Gertz can be reached via @BillGertz.