The Pentagon and several media representatives have reached a tentative agreement on the highly controversial issue of future coverage of "small military actions" such as last year's invasion of Grenada.
The plan calls for the creation of an 11-member "core" group, or "pool," of correspondents and cameramen to accompany American forces to the battlefield. The pool members would be selected by their own organizations, transported by military aircraft and allowed to use military communications facilities.
Representatives of the television industry would dominate the pool. Each major network -- ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN -- would be represented. A film and sound crew of two people would serve all four networks.
No daily newspaper correspondents would be among the pool's remaining five members. One correspondent would be supplied by each of the two major wire services, the Associated Press and United Press International; one correspondent would represent three national news magazines, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report; and one photographer from an unspecified organization and one correspondent for an unspecified radio network would complete the pool.
Col. Robert J. O'Brien of the Pentagon's public affairs office said the pool's composition and ground rules were worked out last week by representatives of his office and pool participants. Some details are still unresolved, he said.
The organizations included in the pool, he said, were chosen in order to reach the largest possible audience in this country. Nearly all U.S. newspapers subscribe to the AP or UPI or both. O'Brien said each network demanded that its own correspondent show up on film even though the same film would be used by all. It was not clear how the film would be transmitted from the battlefield; O'Brien said there was no assurance of any satellite relay.
Benjamin C. Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post, questioned the emphasis on television and said: "The Washington Post will do everything it can to report the news whether we are in any pool or not."
Arthur O. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, said: "The Defense Department's plan to ban newspaper reporters from selected military operations is incredible. It reveals the administration to be out of touch with journalism, reality and the First Amendment . . . . The New York Times' duty to its readers will find us making strenuous efforts to reverse this whole approach and this blatant act of discrimination."
Richard J.V. Johnson, president of the Houston Chronicle and chairman of the American Newspaper Publishers Association, issued the following statement:
"We are pleased that the Department of Defense has taken the first step toward creating an effective contingency press pool for U.S. military operations. Obviously, a pool of 11 must include at least one experienced newspaper reporter, and we have asked the Pentagon to make that correction immediately."
O'Brien said that if it were possible to expand the 11-member pool for an operation, newspapers with large circulations and large bureaus here would likely get preference.
The Pentagon's agreement to create a pool for "small" military actions grew out of the invasion of Grenada last October. Correspondents were kept off the island until the third day. This provoked debate over censorship and military security and led to the creation of a study commission and, ultimately, the pool proposal.
O'Brien said each organization represented in the pool would designate an executive whom the Pentagon would contact to pick a representative in the event of a military operation. The Pentagon's only requirements are that assigned participants have U.S. passports and be in good physical condition so that they are not a "burden" to the troops, he said.
The pool's size -- 11 members--is arbitrary and might be as small as two members or much larger than 11, depending, O'Brien said, on the operation and transportation and communications facilities. O'Brien also said that he hoped the pool operation could be expanded within 24 hours of any military engagement.
But, according to Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael I. Burch, the use of any pool will hinge on the approval "by the host nation" where U.S. forces are involved. It is anticipated that about every six months the pool members will be convened, not knowing whether it is a drill, Burch said.
In the case of an operation, they will be allowed to report to their news organizations "when the operation commences or as soon thereafter as practical," he said.