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The Army has barred a reporter for the Stars and Stripes newspaper from covering an Iraqi-based unit operating in the still-violent Mosul region because he "refused to highlight" positive news during an earlier visit, the independent newspaper reported Tuesday.
The commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, Col. Gary Volesky, also complained that reporter Heath Druzin "would not answer questions about stories he was writing."
The unit's public affairs officer, Maj. Ramona Bellard, alleged that Druzin used quotes out of context, "behaved unprofessionally" and repeatedly asked permission to use a computer during a "blackout" period so he could file a story.
In a Tuesday Stars and Stripes story, editorial director Terry Leonard said Druzin's reporting in Mosul "had been consistently accurate and fair," and he denied the Army's allegations.
Also coming to the reporter's defense was the president of the Military Reporters and Editors group, who wrote a scathing letter to the Pentagon's No. 2 public affairs official, Bryan Whitman.
"There is absolutely no evidence to indicate that Mr. Druzin in any way compromised the unit's operational security or put American forces at risk with his reporting," said Ron Martz, who once covered the Iraq war while embedded. "Barring this reporter from an embed for what appear to be specious reasons violates both the spirit and the letter of the embed guidelines that Military Reporters & Editors and many other journalists have worked so diligently to implement since long before the initial invasion of Iraq in March 2003."
Martz sent copies to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey and to Gen. David Petraeus, the chief of U.S. Central Command and the officer who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The top CentCom public affairs officer, Navy Capt. Jack Hanzlik, told Martz that Petraeus had seen the letter and had asked Hanzlik to contact Whitman for more details about the ban.
Whitman, who was heavily involved in writing the military's embedding policy, acknowledged the contact during a Wednesday interview. He said he has also contacted the Stars and Stripes ombudsman and the command "to see if we can't resolve this issue in a way that is amenable to everybody."
But he said he needs to learn more about the situation and has no sense yet of whether the reporter actually violated any of the military's ground rules.
"I'm not aware of the specifics of this particular case and I am seeking to determine all the facts," he said Wednesday. "These incidents tend to be very rare. Embedding with military units works because ... experienced commanders and mature reporters are typically able to make this embedding with their units work in a way that doesn't compromise operations or endanger the personnel that are conducting those operations."
But, he added, "accuracy of reporting is important."
The Defense Department writes and oversees the broad operating policy for Stars and Stripes, but the newspaper's editorial content and functions are, by regulation, supposed to remain free of military influence or control.