Covering Defense, From Hotspots Around the World to the Corridors of the Pentagon

By Chris Adams

Three reporters who walk the halls of the Pengaton on a daily basis have very different audiences and missions in their coverage. But they agree on one thing: They have the best beat in Washington.

David Martin of CBS News, Lolita Baldor of The Associated Press and Tara Copp of Stars and Stripes have been to bases and combat zones all over the world, taken off in fighter jets from aircraft carriers, and deciphered the immense, $600 billion-plus Pentagon budget.

In a session with National Press Foundation Paul Miller fellows in the Pentagon’s briefing room, they explained why they consider themselves so lucky.

“You feel like you are so close to history,” said Copp of Stars and Stripes, a paper printed and delivered to military personnel around the world every day. The paper is owned by the U.S. Department of Defense but given journalistic independence.

“It’s a daily human drama – one in which they are playing for all the marbles,” added Martin, the CBS veteran who has covered the Pentagon since 1983.

“It’s never dull,” said Baldor, the AP reporter who is also a former Paul Miller fellow. The frustrations on the beat are real, too – including the enormity of covering an organization that is the nation’s largest employer, with more than 1.3 million active duty personnel and 742,000 civilian employees.

The three reporters gave tips on getting information from the Pentagon, including how to walk the halls and score some one-on-one time with potential sources. And they talked about how to push back when the Pentagon asks them to hold stories for national or operational security reasons.

“I always err on the side of caution,” Martin said. “They usually don’t make that argument lightly.”

In addition to the beat reporters, the Paul Miller fellows also heard from Capt. Jeff Davis, who is director of Defense Press Operations; he described the structure of the operation, including the different commands or issues handled by various press officials in the Pentagon to those on bases around the world.

Help Make Good Journalists Better
Donate to the National Press Foundation to help us keep journalists informed on the issues that matter most.