- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
What’s up with Col. Gary Volesky? He had a pretty good reputation among reporters I knew in Baghdad. He’s also a well-respected commander, receiving the Silver Star for a rescue mission in Sadr City back in 2004. But lately he has had an ugly run-in with an embedded reporter for Stars & Stripes.
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.
I know it is hard for the Army to accept this, but one of the most important journalistic freedoms we have is the right to be wrong. No one is right all the time, and sometimes it is the lonely dissident voice that pisses off everyone else that turns out to be right. Otherwise we’d still have slavery and various other flaws in our system.
Volesky’s move is especially bad because Stars & Stripes lately has been covering the Iraq war outside Baghdad almost solo. It isn’t like ejecting one reporter back during the invasion, when the media hordes were present.