Once upon a time, it was considered smart to issue bad news on a Friday afternoon to minimize coverage. But that rule of thumb went the way of print media's dominance. In an always-on, 24-hour news cycle, it hardly makes a difference.
Nevetheless, faced with a request from the New York Times for information about concussions incurred in mandatory boxing classes at West Point, the Army Surgeon General recommended delay.
"Timing is everything with this stuff," she reportedly told the Army public affairs staff. Delaying the release would give her time to interest other publications in doing more favorable stories about the same subject.
Advocates of greater transparency in government called the incident "disturbing." Reports that the Army Surgeon General had used the same tactic in the past to manipulate news coverage probably didn't allay their concerns.
So is this smart media relations or is it unethical?
The New York Times, for its part, thinks it "undermines the news media." The whistle blower who brought the story to the paper's attention says he did so because not being open with journalists "damages democracy."
We're with them.
The kind of behavior described here goes way beyond putting information in context. First, it's unfair to the reporter who requested the information in the first place. But even more importantly, it attempts to create an alternative version of the truth, which undermines a free press and, ultimately, violates the public's right to reason. It's time such behavior stops.