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After WESA inquiry prompts Army response, Mastriano dials back military imagery on social media

Mastriano Facebook.png
Chris Potter
/
Facebook
A screenshot of the Facebook page for State Sen. Doug Mastriano, Republican candidate for governor, before he removed photographs of him in military uniform.

Gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano has been in violation of a U.S. Army policy that governs how political candidates can use photographs of themselves in uniform — a situation he took steps to rectify last week and again Monday, as the Army reached out following a 90.5 WESA inquiry about the images.

Mastriano is a retired colonel and combat veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, and who carried out missions to help Afghan orphans and heading up a joint intelligence center in Afghanistan. That service record is a key component of his campaign and his online brand.

A Facebook campaign page, Doug Mastriano Fighting For Freedom, identifies him as “a combat veteran of the U.S. Army and a candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania.” His Twitter account, meanwhile, has repeatedly tweeted out pictures of himself in uniform. He did so several times in response to a lone tweet by his Democratic rival Josh Shapiro urging Pennsylvanians to thank veterans.

And until last week, both the Twitter and social media accounts were headed up with profile pictures of Mastriano in military gear. The Facebook page showed him in dress uniform and beret, while the Twitter account showed him in fatigues.

Those images were replaced last week with images of Mastriano in civilian gear, after WESA queried military authorities about whether Mastriano was in violation of military regulations.

“The Army contacted Mr. Mastriano’s campaign staff and advised them of the rules for imagery use contained within the DoD Directive and Army Regulation” after the WESA query, confirmed Army spokesman Matthew Leonard. 

Department of Defense directive says that while veterans running for office can refer to their prior service and use images from it, “[a]ny such military information must be accompanied by a prominent and clearly displayed disclaimer that neither the military information nor photographs imply endorsement by the Department of Defense or their particular Military Department.”

Avoiding such confusion is typically handled through a disclaimer that appears in TV advertisements or written communications: Prior to last week, Mastriano himself has previously used such a disclaimer in at least one campaign video spot.  

“Any military information posted by a military member not on active duty, must be accompanied by a prominent and clearly displayed disclaimer that neither the military information nor the photographs imply endorsement by the Army,” said Leonard, the Army spokesman. “This policy also applies to retired members.”

The military regulation on use of such imagery dates back to 2008 — a time before social media played as prominent a role in politics. The policy doesn’t specifically address whether such a disclaimer should appear on each individual social media post. It also doesn’t speak to cases where a campaign retweets posts made by others that use the imagery. (Mastriano’s account, for example, recently reposted a Tweet by Jenna Ellis, a former legal advisor to Donald Trump’s campaign who serves a similar role for Mastriano’s bid, that featured Mastriano in fatigues.)

But Leonard said, “The policy requires that a disclaimer be prominently displayed on the site, which at a minimum, may be included within the profile.”

As of 10:30 a.m. on Aug.15, Mastriano’s Twitter account still lacked such a disclaimer, though the account itself still includes the military images in its timeline. The profile identified Mastriano only as a gubernatorial candidate and a state senator.  

But later in the day, Mastriano changed his profile pic again — back to an image of himself in fatigues, but this time with a disclaimer superimposed in a small white typeface over Mastriano's light-brown fatigues. "Use of his military rank, job titles, and photographs in uniform does not imply endorsement by the Dept of the Army or the DoD," it says.

Mastriano also used the same image on the Fighting for Freedom Facebook page.

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Mastriano apparently did add the disclaimer to a standalone site, doug4gov.com. A screen capture of the page taken by WESA on Aug. 10 shows no disclaimer, but it has since been posted at the bottom of the site, whose homepage features a photo of Mastriano in fatigues with children.  

Mastriano’s campaign did not respond to an email request Monday morning, seeking comment from WESA. It also reportedly did not respond to a request from a Philadelphia TV station that noticed the change in social media profile pictures

Updated: August 15, 2022 at 3:29 PM EDT
This story was updated to reflect changes Mastriano made to his social media profile.
Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.