MONDAY’S LETTERS: Bush and Rummy Among Friends, Embed Decline

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By: E&P Staff

In today’s letters, readers react to a pair of Greg Mitchell columns on recent conversations that President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld had with conservative columnists, and a former U.S. Army public affairs officer blames news organizations for the lack of embeds currently with U.S. troops in Iraq.


On Greg Mitchell’s Columns About President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld

A critical moment arrives when Bush announces, “And I’m trying to figure out a matrix that says things are getting better. I think that one way to measure is less violence than before, I guess. We’ll have to see what happens here after Ramadan. I believe these people — oh, I was going to tell you Abizaid believes Ramadan, no question, caused them to be more violent because he says there’s some kind of reward during Ramadan for violence.”

Memo to the president: Ramadan ended three days ago and the number of Americans killed continues to surge, with at least five killed in the past day alone

And just as funny is his trying to parrot Rummy, I think he meant metric not matrix. Perhaps he confused with the movie?

Jim Vinsel
Portland, Ore.

It occurred to me after reading [Greg Mitchell’s column on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld] that, if I had to choose, I’d say Ms Barks was in somewhat closer touch with reality than the Secretary of Defense serving the lone superpower of the world in time of war (none of that ‘Rummy’ stuff- let’s call it like it is). She at least admitted that talking to her was something like talking to a 2 year old.

Louise Kosta

I’m glad to see [Greg Mitchell’s] columns about the strange and revealing interviews that Bush and Rumsfeld have given recently. You’re making excellent points in them.

In case you’re planning to write about Cheney’s interview with Scott Hennen, when he endorsed water boarding, I thought I’d point out something that the news media has not noted: That the story broke on line first, before the traditional media picked it up. I’m sure of this because I wrote the first commentary on the Hennen interview, at (and crossposted at other blogs). Here’s the link to my post from last Tuesday.

For a long time I’ve been keeping an eye on the interviews that top administration officials regularly give to local right-wing radio hosts, which consistently produce not just outrageous statements from Rumsfeld, Cheney and others, but also give good insight into the talking-points the administration is trying to communicate directly to its true-believer base. Oddly, very few other bloggers or journalists ever seem to bother mining this rich material.

Another one of my posts that might interest you, in relation to your column on Rumsfeld’s chummy relations with these small-time radio hosts, is a comparison I did in July of two of Rumsfeld’s radio interviews on subsequent days. It turned out that the interviewers asked Rumsfeld about the same 9 issues. Even more tellingly, they posed their 9 questions in virtually the same order. The (mathematical) probability of THE LATTER occuring by chance is virtually nil. So I concluded that there was almost certainly some kind of collusion going on in formulating questions to ask Rumsfeld. The only credible explanation, I argued, was that the Pentagon was supplying these radio hosts with scripted questions in advance. …

Michael Clark

I’m not so sure that lineup of columnists counts as “conservative”… especially Michael Barone, Charles Krauthammer and Lawrence Kudlow, the latter two of which are neocons to the core. But I suppose they are Bush friends.

I hope for media sensitivity to the fact that many conservatives don’t consider Bush one in the slightest, and his media cheerleaders even less so.

David Wilson

When I read stories like this I truly truly despair for my country — it really seems like a race to the bottom, to see who can take us there first, the gross incompetents in the current administration, or the apparently brainless morons who vote for them.

I recently read that, this year alone, President Bush has attended over 90 strictly political meetings or rallies. And then there are the long hours of brush clearing and bike riding.

Lincoln said you can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but not all the people all the time. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and see what happens on Nov 7th?

Steven Knipp
Washington, D.C.


Why There Are Fewer Embeds

It is an incorrect assertion that “embedded reporters had dropped to 9 this fall from 770 during the invasion largely because of resistance from “key military officers” and “the often clueless Combined Press Information Center in Baghdad, which doesn’t manage the media so much as manhandle them.”‘ First, Michael Yon said in his article that “part of the blame rests” with the key military leaders and the CPIC in Baghdad, not “largely” as you paraphrased in your E&P article.

While I lament that the embed program is “ineptly managed,” according to Mr. Yon, the implication that if competent people were suddenly put in charge hundreds of journalists would suddenly be embedded again is plainly false. There simply aren’t that many reporters in Baghdad. Based on my recent conversations with journalists and public affairs officials in Iraq there might be one hundred reporters from foreign (other than Iraq) news organizations there. The number is probably closer to several dozen.

How did we get to this moment? The fault is with the publishers. The advertising dollar and the corporate bottom line of the commercial media is the single biggest factor in the lack of reporting from Iraq, in my opinion. Some members of the press and other industry spokespersons say it is the factor of safety, but even safety is a function of finances. More safety equals more $$$. One only must read the E&P website over the course of a week and there are stories about guild labor disputes, declining circulation, declining advertising sales and quarterly earnings losses. None of this is positive financial news for news corporations.

Most of the military PAOs in Iraq operating in the field want media to embed with them. Yeah, there are a few commanders who want nothing to do with the press but they are the exception, not the rule. When was the last time you saw extensive reporting with datelines of Mosul or Basra? Sure, the NYT and Washington Post have robust Baghdad bureaus and reporters such as Josh White, WP, do embed as he is currently in Tikrit. But why not a Mosul bureau or Basra bureau to get quicker access to coalition forces? These news corporations claim they have Iraqi stringers in these areas, however, they do little of their own enterprise reporting. Instead, they usually track down quotes or follow leads provided to them by their Baghdad bureau chiefs.

The official sources of the war in Iraq now are the NYT and WashingtonPost news services and the AP, Reuters, and AFP wire services. The network and cable broadcast TV in Iraq are also relying on the aforementioned news and wire servicespredominantly except perhaps CNN who has Michael Ware reporting almost exclusively from the field. Nevertheless, this is far too few voices for the news to be filtered through.

It is disappointing that their are public affairs officers who don’t value alternative media such as bloggers. (I’ll hold my final opinion until I hear Lt. Col Barry Johnson’s side). So, before members of the media industry pile on behind Mr. Yon and point their fingers outward and blame the military, they should look inward to ensure their own corporate houses are in order.

Michael Birmingham
Lt. Col., U.S. Army
former Public Affairs Officer, 3rd ID(M), OIF I

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