This week, Stars and Stripes revealed that the Pentagon had hired a controversial contractor to screen journalists seeking to embed with U.S. forces. The Rendon Group determines whether reporters’ coverage “was ‘positive,’ ‘negative’ or ‘neutral’ compared to mission objectives.” The Pentagon’s decision was especially shocking in light of Rendon’s sordid past: The group personally set up the Iraqi National Congress and helped install Ahmad Chalabi as leader, whose main goal — “pressure the United States to attack Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein” — Rendon helped facilitate.
Military officials immediately went about furiously refuting the reports. “We have not denied access to anyone because of what may or may not come out of their biography,” said public affairs officer Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Mathias. “It’s so we know with whom we’re working.” Other officials for the Pentagon and Rendon went even further:
“They are not doing that [rating reporters], that’s not been a practice for some time — actually since the creation of U.S. Forces–Afghanistan” in October 2008, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters Monday. “I can tell you that the way in which the Department of Defense evaluates an article is its accuracy. It’s a good article if it’s accurate. It’s a bad article if it’s inaccurate. That’s the only measurement that we use here at the Defense Department.” [...]
The Rendon Group declared in a statement that “the information and analysis we generate is developed … not by ranking of reporters.”
But new files prove otherwise. Stars and Stripes obtained profiles produced by Rendon. They clearly calculate the percentage of “positive” stories written by a reporter and offer ideas not about how to get the reporter to produce more accurate stories, but how to get more “favorable coverage” for the military. Fox News also obtained a slide from a Rendon PowerPoint presentation, where headlines from major newspapers are rated with “a plus sign, a negative sign or a capital ‘N,’ presumably for neutral.” Images from the profiles and PowerPoint:
Stars and Stripes also notes that one of the profiles looked at a reporter’s work as recently as May, indicating that the ranking did not stop in October 2008, as Whitman claimed.
What remains unclear is how extensively this ranking affects whether the military allows certain reporters to embed with troops. At least one reporter, Heath Druzin with Stars and Stripes, was barred for refusing to highlight more good news from the military. Fox News also obtained a Rendon memo that “showed that past coverage is at least taken into account during the process.”