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
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
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