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The Drought Is Over: Pentagon Spokesman Holds 1st Formal Press Briefing

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Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman on Thursday broke his predecessors’ streak of not holding an on-camera, on-the-record briefing for the press in 15 months.

Hoffman jokingly noted the long spell between press conferences in the Defense Department’s briefing room after 30 minutes of taking questions, mostly about Iran and the latest crisis in the Middle East. “See you next September,” he said.

Formal press conferences had been weekly occurrences under previous Republican and Democratic administrations. The drought began in May 2018 under former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Pentagon spokespeople also used to hold near-daily off-camera “gaggles” for defense reporters, but those also stopped.

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At the time of the stoppage, one of Mattis’ aides, Dana White, was accused of using Pentagon staffers to run personal errands.

Mattis also shunned the briefing room podium but would occasionally drop by the press area to take questions off-camera, and then leave reporters frustrated by putting much of what he said off the record.

Since taking office in late July, Defense Secretary Mark Esper has signaled that a new era of transparency will be taking hold throughout the Defense Department.

On his first day as the Pentagon’s top civilian, he came to the press area to get acquainted and take questions.

Days later, Hoffman, whose title is assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, put out guidance to the department: “Simply put, the Department benefits when we thoughtfully engage with the American public, Congressional leaders, international community, and the media.”

On Aug. 28, Esper, joined by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, held the first formal press conference in the Pentagon briefing room by a sitting defense secretary in more than a year. The first by a chief spokesman, held Thursday, took a little longer.

— Richard Sisk can be reached at

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