The Army's No. 1 information officer, after reading a Stars & Stripes series about women's problems in today's Army, recommended that investigative reporting be banned in newspapers published by the Pentagon.
"The Army would strongly support such a change," Brig. Gen. Lyle J. Barker, Army chief of public affairs, wrote in a memorandum to the director of the American Forces Information Service. "Investigative reporting can very frequently have an adverse effect on the morale and discipline of command."
Besides, continued the general, the Army already has a system for solving its own problems without the help of newspapers, which "can only expose a problem but do very little, if anything, toward the problem's solution."
But right after Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) challenged those views, Barker took them back in a second memo issued this week.
"The Army should not be in the business of censoring the press, particularly Stars & Stripes," Proxmire said. Proxmire said Stars & Stripes should provide its readers with information "unfettered by command influence."
The newspaper's European and Pacific editions are designed to keep military people informed in places where other American publications often are not available.
There has long been tension within the newspapers' editorial staffs, which include many civilians under the command of career military officers. The editor of each overseas Stars & Stripes is a military officer who receives guidance on the paper's contents from top Pentagon brass, often putting him at odds with his news staff.
Barker confirmed in a telephone interview yesterday that he had written a memo on July 28 to Robert Cranston, director of the American Forces Information Service, recommending that rules be issued "to preclude investigative reporting in the same way that the current directive directs the avoidance of 'sensational or alarming details not esssential to factual reporting.' " However, he said his intent was to urge balance.
The Barker memo was prompted by a "Focus on Women" series in Stars & Stripes' European edition which, without giving real names, recounted experiences of Army women who said they had been raped; been told they would not be promoted unless they had sex with male superiors; been abused verbally as they tried to perform their jobs in a professional manner, and had complained to no avail to superiors.
"Investigative reporting can very frequently have an adverse effect on the morale and discipline of a command," Barker wrote in his July memo, "especially when it is not balanced and does nothing but promote hysteria as opposed to ensuring our forces that our leadership is concerned and constantly working to improve the very conditions 'exposed' in sensational series.
"A system is already established in the services to investigate and solve problems that are brought to the attention of our various commands: the inspector general," Barker said.
Ronald L. Tammen, Proxmire's administrative assistant, said yesterday that Barker's aides told them they knew of no memo the general had sent to Stars & Stripes seeking to ban investigative reporting. Tammen said only after he specifically identified the memo as one addressed to the director of the American Forces Information Service did the Army furnish it. Barker met with Tammen on Friday and brought his memo along.
In his second memo sent out Tuesday, Barker complained that the "Focus on Women" series "frequently used generalizations, and, apparently to protect interviewees, names of violators were frequently omitted. As a result, the cases appeared to have been much more prevalent than they possibly were, and the series indicted many innocent persons.
"My intent, obviously overstated in my earlier memo," the information chief continued, "was to again emphasize objective, balanced reporting in the investigative reporting done by Stars & Stripes. . . . I realize investigative reporting is a very important contribution made to readers by the Fourth Estate and to totally preclude it would be detrimental to the paper's readers."