When I was asked to appear on this panel, I asked myself: Why are we doing this again? How many panels have we had on the military and the media? I bring a little different view to this whole subject, and that is, if we haven't figured this out yet on the military side and on the media side, we're not half as smart as I think we are.
From the military perspective, there is something we need to understand. This is a democracy, and a free press is the fundamental underpinning of everything that we stand for, fight for, and believe in. Now, it doesn't make any difference then whether you like the media or you don't like the media—they're here to stay.
It's the same situation that I face now as the leader of a public company. I may or may not like the Wall Street analysts who cover our company, and I may or may not like the view that they take, which is sometimes short-term versus long-term, but, too bad. I can't change that. I have to deal with analysts because they are there and it's my responsibility to figure out how to deal with them.
It's the military's responsibility to figure out how to deal with the media, and the Admiral [Rear Admiral Brent Baker, USN, ret.] just suggested some ways. I think it is a healthy thing for the American military to be exposed through the media to the public. After all, they pay our salaries. Now, there are legitimate securities issues, but they're another question, and we all understand it.
So, to the military I would say: Look, figure out a way to deal with this problem. Stop talking about it, stop whining about it, just get down to work. I tell my people now that talk is cheap, plans are cheap. If it doesn't translate into work, I don't want to hear about it.
Let's stop talking about this issue and solve it. It's not that big a deal. From the media side, you are, you always will be a pain in the neck. It has been that way and it is going to be that way in the future. You are a burden when you come out to call on us. That doesn't mean that we should exclude you, but you are a burden. You take up time in a person's very, very busy day.
If I know that I'm a burden, I try to act a little bit differently and appreciate the fact that I am a burden. But in wartime, you should be able to cover the war. The American people need to know what's happening and what's going on. In this information age, they need to see and to understand, as horrible as it might be, what is happening on the battlefield. Perhaps, if more people understood the horror, we would be less inclined to go to war.
There are issues that the media doesn't want to deal with, and my message to the media is the same as it is to the military: Stop whining about it. We can't take all of the media at the same time. The thousands that might descend upon the battlefield can't be dealt with. So let's figure out a way to deal with what we can deal with and then let's have the courage to talk about the security issue. There are some things that cannot be broadcast, should not be broadcast, because there are legitimate security reasons for not doing so. We just need to figure out what they are—and they're not very hard.
On the military side, however, don't use security as a copout. There are relatively few things that the press cannot be told, relatively few things.
Now, that's how I feel about it. And because I felt that way about it, that is why we operated the way we did during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The First Marine Expeditionary Force was open to the media. We had laid out some rules—I didn't like them all—but they caused us to be able to deal with fewer rather than more media. But those [reporters] that got out, we welcomed them. They could go anywhere, do anything, talk to anybody, from private to general, no restraints, no restrictions.
Now, there's a caveat here, if you're going to do that, you better have faith in your troops. If you don't trust them, if you don't have faith in them, you can't turn the media loose. But I would submit that if you don't have faith and don't trust them, you're not a very good leader and you shouldn't be there either. You've got to be able to deal with the one percent that is going to say what you don't want them to say. There's going to be one Marine, one Sailor who is going to embarrass you, but only one. Ride that storm out; don't shut it down because of the one percent.
There's been a lot of discussion of Molly Moore's [Washington Post reporter] coverage of the war. In fact, I noticed the picture of Molly Moore and me in front of my tent when we came back from the attack in Kuwait [in the May 1997 Proceedings.] You should know that I extended that invitation to five reporters. Molly was the only one who showed up. This wasn't the fault of the other people; it was rather late in the campaign planning when I decided to do this, and then there were some who thought, 'Boomer's going to be 50 miles behind the lines and there ain't going to be any story there.' Well, they didn't know me very well, but that's how Molly happened to get the scoop.
Both sides need to stop talking about this thing, sit down, and get to work, figure out the few tough issues that we need to work on and let's learn to live together. Neither of us is going to go away.
General Boomer is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Rogers Corporation, Rogers, Connecticut. He commanded I Marine Expeditionary Force during Operation Desert Shield-Desert Storm.