Pentagon press secretary George Little. / Luis M. Alvarez, AP
George Little's announcement last week that he'll step down Nov. 15 came as a bit of a surprise. He came over with Leon Panetta from the CIA in 2011 and was picked up by new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel when he took office in February.
Little says it's time to attend more soccer games, build better Lego structures and enjoy a "BlackBerry-free Thanksgiving dinner."
Can't blame him. He's been the Pentagon's point man for two years. The pace is hectic, lots of travel and the guy is nothing if not responsive at any hour to any query a reporter might have. All done with hale-fellow good cheer. Hard not to like that.
Plus, Little has genuine respect for the role of the press. Here's an excerpt from his farewell announcement:
"As a University of Virginia alumnus, I'm almost obliged to quote Jefferson. I do so to convey my genuine sentiments about the role of the press in our society:
'The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.'"
I found out, the hard way, sort of, that Little believes that. When the Pentagon's top propaganda contractor in Afghanistan launched a smear campaign against me and a colleague, Little denounced it clearly and flatly and publicly. And he made sure his boss at the time, Panetta, knew about it, too.
Can't ask for more than that.
Naturally, there's speculation about who will replace him. It's a high-profile spot that requires televised appearances, working relationships with reporters from the nation's biggest media outlets and ease with social media.
The White House will want somebody who can articulate and advocate its positions. It could choose somebody with media experience in the mold of White House press secretary Jay Carney, the former Washington bureau chief for Time. Or an up-and-comer from another agency, somebody like the State Department's Marie Harf, the former CIA spokeswoman who helped Hagel in his rocky confirmation process.
Then there's the gray-beard military route. Retired two-star Admiral Greg Smith ran the communications shows in Iraq and Afghanistan would be a leading candidate. On active duty is another admiral, John Kirby, who at one time shared the podium with Little.
Plenty of choices, all with plenty to offer. Here's hoping the choice shares Little's appreciation of the free press and the agitation it helps produce.
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