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Full disclosure: Former Idaho Statesman political reporter Heath Druzin, now with Stars and Stripes in Iraq, is a friend. I sometimes covered the Idaho State legislature while sharing the reporter’s room with Druzin and others. I consider him a talented and thorough reporter with the integrity and attention to the truth we expect from all journalists. The mideast edition of Stars and Stripes, “the independent news source for the U.S. military community” has a story today on one of its own reporters, Heath Druzin. Druzin left the Idaho Statesman last year to report from Iraq. “Officials said Stripes reporter Heath Druzin, who covered operations of the division’s 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in February and March, would not be permitted to rejoin the unit for another reporting tour because, among other things, he wrote in a March 8 story that many Iraqi residents of Mosul would like the American soldiers to leave and hand over security tasks to Iraqi forces," says the story. “Despite the opportunity to visit areas of the city where Iraqi Army leaders, soldiers, national police and Iraqi police displayed commitment to partnership, Mr. Druzin refused to highlight any of this news,” Major Ramona Bellard, a public affairs officer, wrote in denying Druzin’s embed request. Bellard was also unhappy that Druzin repeatedly asked Army officials for permission to use a computer to file a story when a blackout period was in effect. She said he “behaved unprofessionally.”

Former Statesman Reporter Barred From Army Unit For Not Reporting Good News

Full disclosure: Former Idaho Statesman political reporter Heath Druzin, now with Stars and Stripes in Iraq, is a friend. I sometimes covered the Idaho State legislature while sharing the reporter’s room with Druzin and others. I consider him a talented and thorough reporter with the integrity and attention to the truth we expect from all journalists.

The mideast edition of Stars and Stripes, “the independent news source for the U.S. military community” has a story today on one of its own reporters, Heath Druzin. Druzin left the Idaho Statesman last year to report from Iraq.

“Officials said Stripes reporter Heath Druzin, who covered operations of the division’s 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in February and March, would not be permitted to rejoin the unit for another reporting tour because, among other things, he wrote in a March 8 story that many Iraqi residents of Mosul would like the American soldiers to leave and hand over security tasks to Iraqi forces,” says the story.

“Despite the opportunity to visit areas of the city where Iraqi Army leaders, soldiers, national police and Iraqi police displayed commitment to partnership, Mr. Druzin refused to highlight any of this news,” Major Ramona Bellard, a public affairs officer, wrote in denying Druzin’s embed request. Bellard was also unhappy that Druzin repeatedly asked Army officials for permission to use a computer to file a story when a blackout period was in effect. She said he “behaved unprofessionally.”

A 3rd Brigade commander, Col. Gary Volesky, also said that Druzin “refused to answer questions about stories he was writing.” But Druzin’s boss at Stars and Stripes, Terry Leonard, said reporters aren’t required to answer questions like that from commanders.

Stars and Stripes appealed the refusal to embed Druzin with his old unit all the way to the Pentagon, but got nowhere. “The denial of the embed constitutes an attempt at censorship and it is also an illegal prior restraint under federal law. … The military cannot tell us what stories to write or not write,” wrote Leonard in the appeal.

The Army’s list of allegations about Druzin’s reporting are refuted by Leonard.

“Under the embed rules and the congressional mandate of editorial independence for this newspaper, it does not fall under the authority or competence of the command to decide if we do a story, what story we do, or what angle we take in writing the story,” Leonard wrote in his appeal.

Thomas E. Ricks, who covered the military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008, responded to the Stars and Stripes report on his blog, ForeignPolicy.com:

According to the newspaper, Stripes reporter Heath Druzin’s major sin was the “refuse to highlight” the good news in Iraq, as perceived by Volesky’s public affairs officer. Also, Volesky asserts, Druzin asserted that he had the right to refuse to answer questions about stories he was working on. To be clear: Volesky has the right to ask, and Druzin does indeed have the right to decline to answer. It’s a great country.

The Best Defense’s counsel: Col. Volesky needs to get a little perspective here. You may not always like what a reporter writes, but you are putting your life on the line to defend his ability to do it. Don’t go picking and choosing reporters. Invite Druzin back in, have a heart-to-heart with him, and move on.

Editor & Publisher has reported a response from the group Military Reporters and Editors:

Military Reporters and Editors President Ron Martz, himself a former Iraq embed, blasted the Pentagon decision in an e-mail to Editor & Publisher.

”The reasons for barring Heath Druzin from this embed seem specious at best. Army officials in general and the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team appear to have violated both the spirit and the letter of the embed guidelines that Military Reporters & Editors and many other journalists have worked so diligently to implement since long before the initial invasion of Iraq in March 2003.”

“These recent actions by the commander of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team raise the troubling question of just how committed the Army and the 1st Cavalry Division are to allowing journalists to do their jobs and tell the true story of the situation in Iraq and the efforts being made by our men and women in uniform.

MRE urges you to take appropriate action to rectify this specific situation and to implement whatever measures are necessary to ensure that this does not happen again either in this unit or in any other unit in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

There is no question that military news is managed in different ways than nonmilitary. Certain reports that don’t make it to CNN like future troop movements and locations of ships are obvious. Though they are briefed by the military and then sign agreements, good reporters don’t need to be told what not to reveal – (except, of course, the infamous Geraldo Rivera, who revealed tactical information about an upcoming attack in Iraq in 2003.)

In rare instances, military news must be withheld in order to save lives.

But one of the Army’s problems with Druzin is his “failure” to report something they thought he should have reported – and that’s the kind of manipulation that doesn’t fall under any of the categories above. Reporters and editors make judgments every day on what they think is news and what isn’t. Training, experience, and individual outlook is applied in making those decisions, and that’s what Druzin did.

In my opinion, it’s a serious matter when the delivery of accurate and timely news is denied to the American people who always deserve the truth in accordance with our founding principles. We are funding the war with our tax dollars, which makes us even more deserving of the information. Druzin is a professional trained to do exactly what he is doing, and his efforts to be accurate should not be impeded, nor his priorities manipulated.

About Jill Kuraitis

Jill Kuraitis is an award-winning journalist who specializes in news of Idaho and the Rocky Mountain West. Her B.A. in theatre management is from UC Santa Barbara, and she went on to work in theatre, film, and politics before writing became a career. Kuraitis has two excellent grown children and lives in Boise with her husband of 30 years, abundant backyard wildlife, and two huge hairy dogs.

Comments

  1. Linda Funaiole says:

    As a fellow former Idaho Statesman reporter and continuing Idaho freelance journalist, I stand fully behind Heath Druzin, a professional and dedicated journalist. Hang in there, Heath, and continue to do what YOU were trained to do!

    Linda Funaiole
    Freelance Journalist
    Meridian, ID

    Member, Idaho Press Club, Society of Professional Journalists

  2. Bob Smith says:

    Funny, how folks talk first ammendment but never address the actual problem here. The commander of this unit apparently has done nearly 100 interviews since the beginning of the year and no other reporter has been barred from his battlespace. However, Mr. Druzin’s conduct, his unprofessional attitude and his unwillingness to be accountable for violating ground rules (to include release of wounded or killed prior to next of kin notification) are what caused his barring. How does anyone explain CNN, Reuters, AP and every other news organization having access to the unit but this one individual. It must be the commander who is actively hosting reporters and trying to conduct successful operations in Iraq at the same time. This is why journalists continue to be ranked near the bottom of American polls about the most respected people in the country.

  3. Jay Kanta says:

    Did Bob Smith intentionally get it wrong in order to continue his own bias against journalists? I suspect so. I’m sure his opinion on Bill O’Reilly and other Fox News “journalists” are not included in his disgust.

  4. Bill Croke says:

    Well, Jill, what else is new? Do you mean to tell me that the media actually has a track record reporting “good” news in Iraq at all? What makes Druzin any different? The bias against the war in the Bush years was laughable. Nothing was going right from the media point of view. That was the template. Now any coverage hardly exists at all because the Surge worked. And besides, now it’s Obama’s war. It seems “all” the news is good now. Or it’s nonexistent. Thumbsucker, Jill.

  5. Jay Kanta says:

    All the news from Iraq is good now?

    70 dead last week in a single car bomb. Every major news outlet reported it.

    Dozens dead today from another bomb. Every major news outlet reported it.

    I don’t know where Bill Croke gets his news from, but I’m betting that it consists of a local conservative newspaper and this site.

    Maybe Billy is upset that America only buys sensationalist news, such as how an American Idol star is gay or that another Republican Governor was caught in an affair after leaving, unannounced and without delegating responsibility, for 5 days.

    I can only explain Billy’s behavior if he were some kind of willfully ignorant troll. Not saying he is, though, just that it would be the only real explanation.

  6. thedirtyemocrat says:

    I spent 65-67 in Viet Nam and back then the reporters/journalists were given free reign over any and all reporting. A lot of us didn’t like it, but facts are facts and should be allowed no matter.

    The reporters/journalists now are so restricted it is impossible to know fact from fiction. Plus they are not telling what is happening in an even handed manner. Some promote their own agenda for their publication.

    Stars & Stripes has no agenda but truth.

  7. Jay Kanta says:

    dirty:
    Corporations own media centers, the upper echelons of any publication tend to donate to conservatives, the only liberals in the media are typically those that do the actual writing. The editors average out somewhere in the middle.

    Are there biases in the media? Absolutely. Are there always biases in the media? No. Looking at everything as if were biased against you is only an indication of your own paranoia. (I’m no longer addressing you directly, dirty) Everything should be suspected until there is evidence that it can be taken as evidence itself.

    I’m actually encouraged by news coverage becoming less profitable. I think journalism should be viewed more as a public service and less as a profitable venture for those seeking either fame or money.

    Druzin’s answers, and his publication’s support, appear to have a lot more truth than what the Colonel claimed.

  8. thedirtyemocrat says:

    Jay,
    You are correct. The Corps own most of the media and they can only operate if they make profit. The more the better.

    My favorite newspaper (Las Vegas Sun) is independent and makes little money. In fact the advertising is nil in it. It makes its money from other media which affords good reporting and the best attitude toward the people.

  9. Bill Croke says:

    Jay, You’re right about the car bomb and the coverage. Actually, Jay, I spend too much time with online media. I really envy you your 9 to 5 grind. Somebody’s got to do it. Not me. As for Sanford, Ensign, etc., I don’t know what’s the matter with these guys. It’s a destructive narcissism, I guess. Then again, on your side, there’s Clinton, many Kennedys, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, David Patterson, Jim McGreevy, Gerry Studds (great name), and Barney Frank, who was an extremely competent sort of silent partner bordello madam. If he hadn’t missed his true calling the American economy would be in much better shape today. And I don’t watch American Idol because I don’t have a TV. Haven’t for years. So I pick up pop culture in dribs and drabs on the Net. Mostly Drudge Report, etc. So I’ll leave the television exegesis to you, Jay. I think you’re a first rate TV intellectual. I bet you like to sip tea and watch “Masterpiece Theater” (is it still on?). And in the end you resort to name calling , as usual. But there’s the difference between you and me. Say, did Jill write a column today?

  10. Bob Smith says:

    Anybody can cover a bombing. That doesn’t take personal relations with an on-the-ground commander. Bottom line is that Stripes has a track record for breeding this type of behavior in its reporters. When I served in the Army I knew Stripes reporters who got bad evaluations because they didn’t dig for scandals. Mosul obviously is the hot spot right now. However, because Stripes was able to write their own story about the “censoring” they conveniently focused on the facts that made their guy look good. The “questioning” sessions were apparently after-action reviews to help the commander assess how the visit went and ways his leaders can host better the next time. Nobody was editing his stories, nobody was clearing his images (which also included a shot of an interepretor that violated the ground rules and he sent it to be published anyway putting the person’s family at risk of being killed). I didn’t mention Fox going to the unit, because as I recall seeing they haven’t lately. However, CBS, CNN and others have gone there and have not complained about this commander. Censoring is just a nice buzzword to cover up the bad behavior of their journalist.

  11. Randy Rouda says:

    You know, I always thought the biggest scandal in the U.S. Attorney firings wasn’t in the one’s who lost their jobs for refusing to go along with political requests to conduct or withhold investigations. The big scandal was in the one’s who KEPT their jobs. We will never know what they did to maintain their political viability.

    Same story here. This is a very troubling story, but the most troubling question is “Why did the PR flack think ANY reporter would accept instruction about what stories to cover?” One fears that the answer is “Because most of them do.”