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Pentagon slams New York Times for ‘dangerous and inaccurate’ reporting claiming military’s coronavirus response censored by Trump

Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley speak to reporters at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., March 2, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
March 03, 2020

The Pentagon released a scathing statement slamming the New York Times for publishing an article alleging that Defense Secretary Mark Esper muzzled military commanders on coronavirus updates.

Citing U.S. officials, The Times claimed on Monday that Esper directed U.S. combatant commanders to “check in” before making decisions that could “surprise the White House” or could be inconsistent with President Trump’s coronavirus messaging.

“[Esper] explicitly did not direct them to ‘clear’ their force health decisions in advance – that is a dangerous and inaccurate mischaracterization,” Jonathan Rath Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“This Times article is an anonymously-sourced, dishonest misrepresentation of the DOD’s response effort to confront the Coronavirus, and we will forcefully correct the record with our service members and the American public,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman explained that Esper “directed commanders to take all force health protection measures, and to notify their chain of command when actions are taken so that DOD leadership can inform the interagency – including HHS, CDC, DHS, the State Department, and the White House – and the American people.”

Trump has repeatedly been accused of muzzling administration officials on coronavirus updates, including Centers for Disease control officials, especially after the CDC sparked panic when they warned the American public to prepare for the inevitable coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. that “could be bad.”

More than 75,000 U.S. service members are currently stationed in South Korea, Japan, Italy, and Bahrain, which have all experienced coronavirus outbreaks. An active duty U.S. soldier in South Korea also tested positive for the virus.

“The Secretary of Defense has given our Global Combatant Commanders the clear and unequivocal authority to take any and all actions necessary to ensure the health and safety of U.S. service members, civilian DOD personnel, families and dependents,” Hoffman said. “Since day one of the Department’s more than month long response effort to combat Coronavirus, the Secretary has made clear that force protection is his number one priority followed by our ability to continue with our national defense missions”

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said that the Pentagon was preparing for a variety of coronavirus outcomes, including the possibility of a global pandemic. He added that military labs were developing a vaccine, but anticipated that the outcome of U.S. servicemembers would be strong because of their predominantly young age and good health.