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Rumsfeld says he won't lie to media

Rumsfeld says he generally likes his dealings with the news media.
Rumsfeld says he generally likes his dealings with the news media.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Wednesday he never feels any need to lie to the news media, even if he does not always tell reporters what they want to know.

"There's no question but that I don't answer things I don't want to answer," Rumsfeld said at the annual conference of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

"What you have is your credibility, and that is the only thing that gives people and governments traction," he said.

Since the start of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan last fall, there have been some complaints that the media has not been given as much access to the ground war there as they would like. Rumsfeld addressed those complaints at Wednesday's forum, saying they were unwarranted, and expectations often were unrealistic.

"When we did put people on the ground in Afghanistan, they were in very dangerous circumstances. As they got a little better adjusted and closer cooperation with Afghan units, we began putting press people in," he said.

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The defense secretary said the growth of the press corps and their increased appetite for information because of round-the-clock news operations presents more challenges to government officials trying to meet those demands.

Rumsfeld said there are times when the U.S. government is justified in withholding information from the media, but he said lying crosses the line.

"I don't discuss future operations. I don't discuss intelligence matters. I don't reveal classified information," he said. "But the idea that government needs, for whatever reason, to actually actively tell something that's not true to the American people or the press, I just haven't."

In addition, he said, there are nations supporting the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan who have asked the United States not to divulge their role because they don't want their own citizens to know the extent of their involvement, and the U.S. honors those requests.

"They're helping us with intelligence. There may be even in some cases where we have people on their bases and they don't want it known in their country that American aircraft or American pilots and people are physically in their country.

"All we do is we just don't discuss it. You know, we don't go out and say they're not there," he said.

"The reality is, however, that countries that do that may have very good reason, but over time, the truth comes out. So, it's a kind of a short-term policy, I think," he added.

By agreeing to such an arrangement, the United States furthers its mission to fight terrorism, Rumsfeld said, adding, "But we don't go out and say something inaccurate about it. You lose so much more if, in fact, people cannot believe what you're saying."

Overall, Rumsfeld said he generally likes his frequent dealings with the media.

"They, for the most part, are knowledgeable and interested in things that I'm interested in. So I don't feel it's a burden to deal with people at all," he said.

The event at the ASNE conference was part of a monthly public policy forum called "Journalism at the Crossroads," which is sponsored by George Washington University, the Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard University and the National Press Club.

During the forums, policymakers are interviewed by former broadcast journalist Marvin Kalb, executive director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington office.




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