BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York this is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Whenever the United States is engaged in hostilities abroad, the media are at war too -- with the Pentagon as the battle to extract more information from a Defense Department institutionally pre-disposed to provide less.
BOB GARFIELD:A reasonable analogy for war correspondents would be sports reporters. On one hand their intense coverage a team's players and on-field triumphs makes them a de facto marketing arm of the teams they cover.
On the other hand their inevitable hard questions and criticism are greeted with fear and suspicion by the very same organizations.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Think of the buildup in early days of a war as baseball in the spring, when reporters uncritically supply puffy profiles on the PR line, but at some point, when the losses start piling up, tension between the press and those they cover rapidly develops.
BOB GARFIELD:Only three weeks into the War in Afghanistan the confrontation between the military and the media is already mounting. Despite repeated admonitions from the government that the war could last years, editorials have begun to ask for an end game -- an exit strategy and the defeat of the Taliban -- before the rapidly approaching Muslim holy period of Ramadan.
The gee whiz reports from the decks of aircraft carriers are still there, but so is the second-guessing. Here's a representative sample from a briefing this week with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Yes, go ahead.
REPORTER: We've heard from this party in-- maybe a week and a half ago that the Taliban was eviscerated; that their communications were nearly cut off or almost there. Now we're hearing that they're dogged. Can you just give us some perspective -- is this just the nature of the conflict or did the military miscalculate? [...?...]
DONALD RUMSFELD: Oh, look. We're, we're trying to have daily briefings. [LAUGHTER] There's been an enormous appetite for daily briefings, [LAUGHTER] and when I get up in the morning I say by golly, we're going to feed that appetite. [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Leaks of operational details have infuriated an already media-skittish secretary of defense. In an environment of suspicion and increasing defensiveness, how are the media supposed to get anything from the military? They read between the lines, say reporters like David Martin, long time national security correspondent for CBS. Welcome to the show!
DAVID MARTIN: My pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now we've been seeing almost daily briefings from the Pentagon. How many of your stories do you get from press conferences and if not the press room, where do you get them?
DAVID MARTIN: The news is-- often not in those briefings. The news is often out in the hallways of the Pentagon. You have to understand that the Pentagon is a very, very open place. I have my-- building pass, and I can just about go anyplace I want in this building, and I've surprised more than one secretary of defense in the hallways over the years who had no idea that reporters had such free rein. And that's my basic M.O. in covering the Pentagon is to roam the building.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So as you roam the hallways, how can you tell when something is up - when a story is breaking.
DAVID MARTIN:There's a body language that goes with this building. You suddenly one day start seeing people walking just a half step faster. You see them carrying little-- briefcases which are labeled top secret and code word information and you see people closing their doors.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can you give me an example of when walking faster tipped you off that something was happening?
DAVID MARTIN:Well, to me the clearest example happened on the day we invaded Panama back in 1989. Dick Cheney who I think is probably the most self-contained person I've ever covered was walking not a half step faster; he was walking two to three times his normal speed. And it's actually the only time I ever saw Dick Cheney look like he was in a hurry or under any kind of pressure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And what about other non-verbal signals. For instance a grunt or a nod or a-- averting of eyes. Do you have to play the psychiatrist when getting some of this information?
DAVID MARTIN: In, in a sense you do. I mean I don't want to give the impression that people walk around here with a bunch of facial tics communicating in code, but if somebody doesn't want to tell you that the first of the 75th Rangers is going to jump into Kandahar Airfield in Southern Afghanistan tonight, they might say something to you like who leads the way? Well if you've been around the military enough you know that who leads the way is-- part of the -- a Ranger slogan. The line goes: Who leads the way? Rangers lead the way.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you're talking about a kind of code - not a military code but a kind of Pentagon cognoscenti code. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
DAVID MARTIN: Right. This-- That's a very good way of putting it, yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is there anybody who's currently around the Pentagon who is particularly easy to read?
DAVID MARTIN: Currently, no. Unfortunately for me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about Colin Powell?
DAVID MARTIN:Well Colin Powell I thought was always very easy to read. If something was up, he'd usually bark at you - he'd say something like-- get out of my A-O, Martin, and A-O is--military-speak for Area of Operations.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:[LAUGHS] Now Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has been very vocal about leaks to the media. He issued another warning to government employees this week. Are his warnings having any impact? Do you find that people are shrugging, grunting, nodding, talking less?
DAVID MARTIN: Well they're certainly talking less. I think he's -- basically driving them to the shrug and nod way of communicating because he clearly is on the warpath about leaks, and, and that has a chilling effect.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is it true that sometimes after a leak, everyone there is required to do a polygraph test?
DAVID MARTIN:They do give polygraph tests on certain programs. I'm told that there's a polygraph--investigation going on now into who leaked the story of the fact that the U.S. had a predator-- unmanned reconnaissance drone circling over Afghanistan armed with a missile that it would have used to kill either Mullah Omar or-- Osama bin Laden if they had had the chance.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You think that a leak like that threatens national security?
DAVID MARTIN:I can see their point on that one, because obviously you have a better chance of getting bin Laden or Mullah Omar if they have absolutely no idea that such a capability exists.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you wouldn't have reported about the drone.
DAVID MARTIN: Oooo-- don't ask me that. That's a tough one.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well, David Martin, I don't want to keep you -you have 17 and a half miles of Pentagon corridor to walk. Thank you for spending some time with us.
DAVID MARTIN: Okay.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Martin is the national security correspondent for CBS News. [MUSIC]