Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Balanced and Favorable - Congratulations Sorya Sarhadi Nelson

Some of you may recall that - back in August of 2009 - Stars & Stripes broke the story of how the Pentagon was using the services of the Rendon Group to rate reporters who sought to embed in Afghanistan. NPR gave this story brief on-air coverage - two stories to be exact:
  • On August 27, 2009 ATC JJ Sutherland reported the story from the perspective of two military spokespersons.
  • On August 29, 2009 ATC Guy Raz did a decent interview with Charlie Reed the lead reporter on the story for Stars & Stripes.
At the time, I remember thinking that any truly public news organization would have reported on whether its own reporters had been subjects of the Rendon ratings. Given NPR's failure to seriously report on US/NATO atrocities in Afghanistan that was definitely something I was curious about. Instead of wasting my time with NPR apologist/ombudsman Alicia Shepard, I decided to file my own FOIA request (a first for me). After a bit of research into the process, I contacted USCENTCOM and included the following request:
"Pursuant to the federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, I request access to and copies of information contained in the reporter profiles provided to the US Department of Defense by The Rendon Group for profiling reporters seeking to embed with US forces in Afghanistan. I specifically am interested in profiles related to the following National Public Radio (NPR) reporters: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Tom Bowman, and Renee Montagne.

Through this request, I am gathering information on ratings provided to the US Department of Defense about reporters from National Public Radio who have embedded with US forces in Afghanistan. This information is of current interest to the public because the story of profiling reporters has recently broken and yet no mention of whether NPR reporters were profiled has been made public.

This information is being sought on behalf of the blog "NPR Check" for dissemination to the general public. My blog is a media critique of National Public Radio news. I post to it about 2-3 times per week and have been posting for over three years. The blog currently has about 250 readers per day."
Well, the wheels of government do turn slowly, but this Monday, September 27th, I finally received my FOIA documents and I'm posting them as Google Documents / PDF files that you can click on to read and then download if you like. The only alteration I made was in the letter to me; I removed my mailing address. The most striking comments come in the "Memorandum" from Rendon where it states:
  • "Nelson's reports have largely been balanced and favorable."
  • "She recently reported favorably on US military aid to victims injured in Taliban attacks as well as US military training of the Afghan police."
  • "Based on her past reporting trends, you may expect Nelson to provide balanced or favorable coverage of her embed experience..."
Below are the documents I received (click on each to read):
  1. Letter of response to my FOIA from USCENTOM.
  2. Memorandum of "Media Analysis for Soraya Sarhadi Nelson" from Rendon to a Staff Sergeant in the Army.
  3. Rendon Group profile of Soraya Sarhadi Nelson.
I will post another open thread in a couple of days - I've been enjoying the lively critiques and comments.