James Mattis
James Mattis

“You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts. If they start living in a dream world, it’s going to be bad.” CNBC (Dec. 2, 2016) rated that statement as one of Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis’ top quotes on leadership and success.

Frequently cited as one of the adults in the Trump White House, the retired Marine Corps General has declared war on the president’s favorite target, “fake news.”

Unlike the commander-in-chief who berates the press at every opportunity and prefers to hunker down in his Twitter bunker, Mattis wants senior military leaders to be as open and transparent as possible with the media.

“Communications is the job of the commander, not just the public affairs officer,” he told a closed-door senior leadership session of generals and admirals on Oct. 6, according to a report in Defense One written by its executive editor Kevin Bacon.

In a follow-up, Pentagon press secretary Dana White said the DOD “has the responsibility to communicate with the American people about what our military needs to stay the most lethal force on earth. The media plays a critical role in that conversation.” 

Defense One noted that Mattis’ talk to military leaders comes “amid some of the worst press relations with elected officials in Washington since Watergate.”

The Secretary, who has limited his own press conferences in favor of informal settings with reporters, believes a skeptical press is healthy for the Pentagon.

“I don’t see you all as adversaries. I see you as, at times, allowed to be more skeptical than I can be in a leadership role, and skepticism is part of a healthy—keeping the organization healthy,” Mattis told reporters in August.

Mad Dog understands that the free press and flow of information represent America’s strengths. He wants commanders to avoid the dream world that is based on fake news because facts always triumph in the long run.