JOHN MILBURN

The Associated Press

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) - A reporter died with George Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn, but the days of such a close kinship between journalists and military officers seem long gone.

The media-military relationship is often contentious enough that the Army's war college devoted three days this week to consider and discuss ways to improve it even though no official military doctrine exists to foster good working relationships.

"We're not enemies, but we're not exactly allies, either," two-time Pulitzer Prize winner John Burns of The New York Times said Wednesday during one of the sessions hosted by the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

It was the seventh symposium by the institute, but the first to focus on media relations.

Burns, the Times' former Baghdad bureau chief, said war correspondents depend on the military to give the access to the front lines. There's potential for the relationship to go bad, but the military is within its rights to question a reporter's motives.

"We need you guys. We can't cover these wars without your help," Burns said.

That relationship has increasingly been a rocky one. The three-day symposium comes as the U.S. military in Afghanistan has acknowledged that it pays a private company to produce profiles on journalists covering the war. Recent stories in the Stars and Stripes newspaper said journalists were being screened by Washington-based public relations firm, The Rendon Group, under a $1.5 million contract with the military.

Military officials have denied that the information is used to decide which media members travel with military units. But the International Federal of Journalists and others have complained about the policy saying it compromises the independence of media.

Tom Curley, chief executive of The Associated Press, has criticized the military for imposing tough restrictions on journalists seeking to give the public truthful reports about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Curley, who did not attend the Fort Leavenworth symposium, met with Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, a former U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, earlier this year before giving a speech at the University of Kansas where he said the news industry must negotiate a new set of rules for covering war.

Since then, the AP has had several meetings and exchanges with top Army leaders, Curley said.

"We have found common ground on major points and are looking at a range of specific situations involving access-to-battlefield events," Curley said Friday. "The conversations have been both enlightening and encouraging."

Many in the audience at the symposium were majors at the Army's Command and General Staff College, where officers are required to improve their media acumen before they graduate by writing blog postings and conducting interviews.

Caldwell instituted the requirements as a means to change the post-Vietnam era culture toward the media and build stronger relationships shortly after he took command of the college in 2007.

"Ultimately, we each have a responsibility to the American people," Caldwell said. "We can work with the media to reach each of our objectives. They're not opposites, they are one in the same."

On the Net:

Fort Leavenworth: http://www.leavenworth.army.mil