Army general: We must engage media

FORT LEAVENWORTH — An Army general said Friday that he doesn't foresee significant changes in a program that prepares mid-grade officers for dealing with the media in light of a Rolling Stone article that led to the dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Brig. Gen. Sean MacFarland, deputy commandant of the Army's Command and General Staff College, said that the incident with McChrystal is an isolated event and not indicative of problems with officers speaking too loosely with reporters.

"Obviously it sent a pretty big shock wave. I'm sure Gen. McChrystal didn't anticipate that," MacFarland said. "It's up to institutions like this to process that and make sure that our mid-grade officers out there understand what the implications are and equip them to deal in an environment of an unblinking media eye."

President Obama relieved McChrystal of the command of forces in Afghanistan last month and replaced him with Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, who led the 2007 surge of forces in Iraq after commanding Fort Leavenworth.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that he issued his order on media rules because of his concern that the military has become "too lax, disorganized and in some cases flat-out sloppy" in dealings with the media.

MacFarland said the military must continue to engage reporters and tell its story.

"We'll certainly encourage our officers to work with the media and will be teaching them how to do that, in light of the new guidelines," MacFarland said. "I think it probably makes that sort of media training more important than ever."

Officers studying at the command college are encouraged to interact with the media, conducting interviews with various outlets, and to contribute to a number of military blogs on a range of topics. MacFarland doesn't anticipate significant changes in directions for officers.

Besides training officers, Fort Leavenworth works with the journalism school at the University of Kansas in a one-week seminar for military affairs reporters from across the country to bridge relations with the military.

Col. Steve Boylan, who spent three years serving as Petraeus' public affairs officer, is now teaching media to officers at Fort Leavenworth. Boylan said some in the military will use the Rolling Stone article as an example of the media wanting to "get" officers and will cause them to avoid media engagements, while others will use it as a learning experience and improve their skills.

But he said the majority won't have an opinion and could be swayed easily to one side or the other.

"That's where I see our roles as leaders, mentors, instructors, public affairs officers, other senior leaders that get it to make sure they fall on the side it's OK to engage, it's good to engage, and oh, by the way, it's your responsibility as a leader to engage with the media," Boylan said. "Especially in a time of war and conflict."