On Wednesday evening, Major General Anthony Cucolo gave a talk entitled “The Media: A Serviceman’s View” in Mandel G3. He spoke about the relationship between the media and the army at an event organized by Brandeis University’s American Studies Department.
Cucolo is the 49th Commandant of the U.S. Army War College and the Commanding General Third Infantry Division. His most recent assignment was director of Force Development for the U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff.
Once a crowd had assembled, Cucolo opened up a PowerPoint presentation that outlined the content of his speech. He stressed the importance of journalistic ethics as well as transparency on the part of the Army, where it could be provided without jeopardizing American interests.
A student in the audience raised her hand and asked for his opinion on Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified materials and how that contributed to the “great liberty versus security” debate. Cucolo replied that Snowden had greatly damaged American interests. He acknowledged that college students at a university with a reputation for liberalism might not agree with him, but stood firm in that conviction as a member of the Armed Forces.
When questioned about his view of the National Security Agency (NSA) and its alleged spying on American citizens, Cucolo said that “your emails, your phone conversations … those aren’t what’s being recorded.” Unable to go into much more depth, he assured the students that the NSA, while imperfect, was not flaunting civil liberties.
He emphasized the importance of reaching out to representatives of the media in the context of a “professional relationship,” and helping them seek out and publicize the truth. Cucolo said that it was in fact in the best interests of the Army to be honest and open, contrary to popular belief.
“The Army is much harder on itself than the media can ever hope to be,” he said. “Trust me on that.”
He values investigative journalism as a means to bring abuses to light and correct them, which entails reporters calling out their colleagues for incorrect information, regardless of how that might affect career advancement. He recounted an incident where he spoke to a reporter, who told him candidly, “I’d rather be first than right.” Such a breach of ethics cannot go unchecked, he said, since information is especially powerful in the form of imagery, and first impressions, right or wrong, often last.
Maj. Gen. Cucolo described the relationship between the media and the Armed Forces as similar to that of a “rocky marriage.” To clarify, he said that “[the Army’s reputation and relationship with the media] is still recovering from Vietnam.”
Another student asked him for his viewpoint on journalists like Lara Logan, who was fired from “60 Minutes” for inaccurate reporting concerning the Benghazi Affair. Cucolo said that Logan is a real “journalist … there’s a difference between journalists and reporters,” and that he admired her determination in seeking out the facts. He said that he believed she learned from her experience and would become a better journalist for it.
Cucolo expressed frustration over the way news outlets often drill representatives of the military for information, even if those individuals have not been briefed on the issue. The military and the media, he said, should complete, not contradict, one another.