By: Brian Orloff
On NBC’s Meet the Press last Sunday, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld charged newspapers with providing an “unfair representation” of his December remarks about the alleged lack of adequate armor on military vehicles for soldiers stationed in Iraq. But an E&P analysis of major newspapers’ coverage of the Pentagon chief?s response to a soldier?s question in Kuwait Dec. 8 shows that Rumsfeld’s attack on newspapers was decidedly off-base.
Rumsfeld complained to NBC?s Tim Russert that the press had harped on two of his statements, notably, “You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time,” without proper context or capturing his assertion that the Pentagon was on top of the problem.
However, a look at the main stories about the exchange published in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post the following day shows that while reporters did give major play to the ?with the Army you have? remark, they also allowed Rumsfeld, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita, and others to offer a spirited defense of the military?s armoring efforts.
In its second paragraph, for example, The New York Times? story, by Eric Schmitt, noted that Rumsfeld had ?responded that the military was producing extra armor for Humvees and trucks as fast as possible.? After detailing the soldiers? complaints, the story came back, in its sixth, seventh, and eighth paragraphs, to Rumsfeld and others defending their armoring efforts.
A Los Angeles Times story by Mark Mazzetti, published under the headline “Rumsfeld Encounters Friendly Fire,” directly quoted Rumsfeld saying, “It’s essentially a matter of physics. It isn’t a matter of money. It isn?t a matter on the part of the Army of desire.? Then it went to summarize Rumsfeld’s defense, including promises to increase the amount of armor. Only then did it quote his now-infamous ?Army you have? statement.
The Boston Globe’s Rick Klein constructed his story in much the same manner. It also quoted at length Loren B. Thompson, the chief operating officer for conservative-leaning Lexington Institute, who said, among other things, “You shouldn’t generalize from a handful of complaints, but it is uncommon for a serving defense secretary to be challenged by his own troops when he’s giving a pep talk in a war zone.”
All of the papers quoted Di Rita, who generally explained the rate of Humvee production and gave data and statistics — including “three out of four Humvees in the war zones were armored” — to support Rumsfeld’s address and promises to soldiers. The Post quoted DiRita calling the question posed by the soldier ?misleading? and noted that some military experts felt the confrontation was nothing to make a fuss over.
The main Post story, by Thomas E. Ricks, accentuated the negative much more than the other accounts. However, another Post story, on Dec. 9, by William Branigin, offered lengthy and multiple quotes on the subject by both President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld. Among other things, Rumsfeld said: “We are doing a whole host of things with respect to these explosive devices, whether they are roadside or vehicle-borne, and we have teams of people in Washington who have been working on it for months and months and months. We have put a lot of money behind it, and we have developed different ways of dealing with it and had varying degrees of success — in some cases considerable success.”