Quantcast The PAO and Navy Investigations

Other survivors may deeply resent prying eyes and vent their  feelings  on  the  media  representatives. In one notable incident, the crew of a Navy airplane that  had  been  attacked  over  international  waters  was made available before they could be debriefed by the PAO.   Unfortunately,   many   officials   at   the   news conference did not know the specific details concerning the mission of the aircraft or the type of equipment it carried.  Rather  than  disclose  that  the  aircraft  carried special   equipment   in   the   spaces   normally accommodating weapons, a crewman stated that the weapons had been removed because “spree parts” were not available. This was a cover statement that backfired all the way to the U.S. Congress. To the crewman questioned, this seemed the best thing to say at the time. Navy officials  agreed  afterwards  that  a  few  minutes  to  debrief the crew privately would have been time well spent. THE PAO AND NAVY INVESTIGATIONS Learning Objective:  Identify the role of the PAO and senior  journalist  in  Navy  investigations. The Navy uses different types of investigations for different circumstances. The most common is the Judge Advocate  General  (JAG)  Manual  investigation.  These are  administrative,  fact-finding  investigations  to  search out,  assemble,  analyze  and  record  all  available information  about  a  particular  matter.  Their  primary purpose is to give convening and reviewing authorities adequate  information  on  which  to  base  decisions. “JAGMans”  are  purely  advisory  in  nature  and  are  often convened in cases of vehicle accidents, loss of govern- ment property, or in cases of injury or death to service members. Accuracy  is  an  important  reason  to  withhold information about an investigation until it is complete. At any point as the investigation proceeds up the chain, it can be sent back for further work. This could change earlier decisions if new information is found. Investigation information may also be used in legal proceedings. Therefore, it is important to protect the rights  of  individuals  and  not  to  prejudice  the  outcome  of the case in court. While PAOs and senior JOs are constrained from releasing information on an investigation before its completion  and  review,  they  should  be  notified  when  an investigation is ordered. Do not assume this will happen. You must check and double check for such information. Every person involved in the incident is interviewed, and this increases the likelihood of leaks to the media. PUBLIC AFFAIRS ACTIONS Public affairs, legal and investigative officers must work closely to assemble an extensive public affairs package addressing the investigation findings before they are released. In  many  cases,  there  has  already  been  media coverage  of  the  event  before  an  investigation  is  under way. Media may try to get information beyond what is available  from  your  office. Families  have  become  a  leading  source  of information  for  the  media,  especially  if  they  think  the Navy has done something wrong or is hiding something. An  example  is  an  incident  involving  a  young  petty officer who was mysteriously lost at sea during a supply audit. The CO telephoned the parents from overseas, trying  to  be  as  candid  and  conciliatory  as  possible. Unfortunately, his call was made before the investi- gation  into  the  incident  was  complete.  Virtually  every word he spoke made the evening news, and later when the  family  received  the  final  investigative  results,  every piece of information that appeared to contradict his early statements  was  highlighted  by  the  media. In  most  cases,  media  must  file  a  Freedom  of Information  Act  (FOIA)  request  to  get  a  copy  of investigative results. Even then, they will get an edited version because personal information on witnesses is protected  under  the  Privacy  Act.  In  stories  with significant  public  interest,  a  cleared  edited  copy  of  the investigative  results  is  made  ready  and  released  upon request when the findings are announced. This was the case in the release of the investigative results of the fire on  the  USS  Bonefish   (SS  582)  and  the  USS  Iowa explosion. DIFFERENCES IN REPORTS The investigative report provided to the families normally contains more information, such as autopsy reports, than that released to the media. The report is given to them before any public release is made and you should know exactly when the families get their copies. You should also make them aware of the differences between  reports  released  to  families  and  those  released to  reporters.  Families  are  also  unofficial  and  often uncontrollable  “releasing  authorities.” There  are  exceptions  to  the  rule.  Sometimes  when extremely  damaging  and  inaccurate  information  is leaked  to  the  media,  it  becomes  necessary  to  release  a small  portion  of  an  investigation  to  calm  public  fears. During the  Iowa investigation, a leak alleged that many 2-29


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