By: Greg Mitchell
On Monday, the day after a heated exchange between Tim Russert and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” media critics and political commentators weighed in on either side but largely ignored the Pentagon chief’s direct slam at the nation’s newspapers.
For those who missed the original, here is a summary, based on the transcript.
Russert rolled a tape of the now-famous question from Spc. Thomas Wilson about a lack of adequate armor on many military vehicles, asked during a Rumsfeld stopover in Kuwait on Dec. 8. The tape spliced together the two Rumsfeld replies that got the most play:
? “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
? “And if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored Humvee and it can be blown up.”
Rumsfeld then told Russert, “That was unfair and it was selectively taking out two sentences from a long exchange. … And when you suggested that that’s how I answered that question, that is factually wrong. … That is not how I answered that question.”
After Russert asked what was missing, Rumsfeld, obviously prepared, offered to read his entire response to the soldier. This is it:
“I talked to the general coming out here about the pace at which the vehicles are being armored. They have been brought from all over the world, wherever they’re not needed, to places where they are needed. I’m told they are being — the Army is — I think it’s something like 400 a month are being done now. And it’s essentially a matter of physics. It’s not a matter of money. It isn’t a matter on the part of the Army’s desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to the war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.
“Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce armor necessary at a rate that they believe — it’s a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously but a rate that they believe is the rate that can be accomplished. I can assure you that Gen. Schumacher and the leadership of the Army and certainly Gen. Whitcomb are sensitive to the fact that not every vehicle has the degree of armor that would be desirable to have, but that they’re working at it at a good clip.
“It’s interesting. I’ve talked a great deal about this with a team of people who’ve been working hard at the Pentagon. And if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and the tank could still be blown up. And you can have an up-armored Humvee and it can be blown up. And you can go down and the vehicle — the goal we have is to have many of those vehicles as is humanly possible with the appropriate level of armor available for the troops. And that’s what the Army’s been working on.”
Rumsfeld then added his slap at the press: “Now, that answer is totally different from picking out two lines. And I think it’s an unfair representation and it’s exactly what some of the newspapers around the country did.”
The Pentagon chief predicted that by mid-February “there will not be a vehicle moving around in Iraq outside of a protected compound with American soldiers in it that does not have an appropriate level of armor.”
But Russert replied: “Which is a pretty dramatic change, because Newsweek had said that, of the 19,000 Humvees in the Iraqi theater, according to the Army’s latest numbers, only a quarter were fully armored. So the fact is that Specialist Wilson’s question in front of his troops in which he was cheered was helpful in getting people to truly focus and respond to this. Fair?”
To which Rumsfeld responded: “Well, you saw my answer.”
Now, what do readers of E&P think? Obviously, a bit of bias may show through, but please send along your comments on whether the press deserves Rumsfeld’s knock. E-mail to me at email@example.com, and I’ll print a few responses.