Information is power

Torie Clarke, former Pentagon representative and one of the planners of embedded journalism, visited the USF campus on Tuesday night as part of the University Lecture Series. Clarke led an extensive political career in Washington spanning more than 20 years. She has worked directly with the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Sen. John McCain.

Clarke spoke in detail of her learning experiences with Sen. McCain. She worked with McCain during the Keating scandal, in which McCain was implicated and later cleared. McCain was the only senator to go public and admit wrongdoing, as well as answer every interview request and question asked. Clarke claims that the scandal ended up helping McCain in the long run because it showed his ability to face harsh criticism.

She also cited an instance when the senator made a remark about former President H. W. Bush that made the New York Times. She said McCain quickly apologized rather than blame the journalist.

“One of his favorite expressions, which I use all the time when I get in trouble is, ‘May the words I utter today be sweet, because tomorrow I may have to eat them,'” Clarke said.She went on to explain how this applied to her jobs with the government. She said in a job like the one she held at the Pentagon, mistakes can happen.

According to Clarke, there are over 2 million “employees” at the Pentagon and not all of them are not perfect all the time. Clarke said that being accountable and prepared would help anyone in his or her career choices. She mentioned an instance in 2001, shortly after Sept. 11, when soldiers were prevented from viewing the bodies of dead soldiers in Afghanistan after they died in a friendly-fire incident.

At the time, she did not follow up on this claim, and as a result caught a considerable amount of flack for it.

“Admitting mistakes, whether it be communications or life, admitting them early and often will often be the best way to move past them,” Clarke said. “The more you plan and the more you prepare, the less likely you are to make mistakes,” she said.

Clarke then detailed how she oversaw embedded journalism in Iraq. According to Clarke, the idea for embedded journalism came to fruition when Operation Iraqi Freedom began. The idea was to place the media at the front line in order to get an objective view of the war in Iraq.

Clarke referred to a reporter observing Iraqi soldiers in civilian clothing as an example. The foreign media published stories about Iraqi soldiers posing as civilians, which gave the whole world a view of this war tactic rather than hearing of it from a simple press statement issued by the Pentagon.

“The more people have access to the military, the better they can make decisions for themselves,” Clarke said.

The program has enjoyed much success since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003. Clarke credits embedded journalism and the efforts of the American and foreign presses for preventing skewed and slanderous material from the Iraqi government from becoming a factor in the war.