EARLY BIRD GROUNDED

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

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.

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