This arrangement benefits the Pentagon by allowing it to control the flow of the news. The 5 p.m. embargo gives the Pentagon plenty of time to dispense the information to Capitol Hill and other agencies. For the obvious political reasons, the Pentagon doesn't want to offend the head of the Senate Armed Forces Committee by giving him the big news via the Associated Press. The arrangement benefits the news organizations: This way, nobody gets beat on the story. (Who said all reporters are competitive?) By the time the secretary of defense makes the 5 p.m. announcement, the reporters are ready to ask intelligent questions about a subject they might have known squat about previously. Seller and buyer generally go away happy.
Reporters who cover such government bureaucracies as State, Defense, Justice, and Treasury might occasionally whine about how more briefings should be on the record. But in their hearts, they know they're kept men and women. And they like it. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the reporters on these beats feel hopelessly bound by their official sources. And maybe they'd like to do something about it. If that's the case, here's a chance for kept reporters to rebel: If you cover a federal department or agency and want to drop a dime on your manipulative handlers, send me e-mail at email@example.com. Name your anonymous briefer and point me to a press account of the briefing, and I'll do the rest.
Send your reflections on anonymice to firstname.lastname@example.org.(E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)