When Wolfowitz Accused War Reporters of Cowardice

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By: E&P Staff

After weeks of agony, Paul Wolfowitz, caught up in a scandal involving his girlfriend, finally quit his post as head of the World Bank late Thursday. Standing his ground, he failed to apology.

Such was not the case back in June 2004 after he accused war reporters in Iraq of being cowards.

At the time, he was denounced by journalists ranging from moderate Howard Kurtz to liberal Maureen Dowd, for implying during congressional testimony that war reporters in Baghdad were sissies who were “afraid” of a little gunfire and so stayed in their cushy enclaves printing “rumors.”

Wolfowitz had told the House committee that “part of the problem” the United States faces in Iraq is that “a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors, and rumors are plentiful. Our own media have some responsibility to try to present a balanced picture, instead of always gravitating for the sensational.”

On “Hardball,” Campbell Brown asked Wolfowitz about the quote, after observing that during the 10 days she recently spent in Baghdad, numerous car bombs went off and three of her colleagues had been kidnapped in Fallujah.

Wolfowitz denied that he was “blaming the media,” saying he only meant “the media picture seems to be unbalanced. And I’m not the only one who’s saying it … I’m not media-bashing.”

The following morning, the normally mild-mannered Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post angrily charged that Wolfowitz was “basically accusing journalists of cowardice.” After admitting that it was true that journalists curtailed travel in Iraq due to violence, Kurtz said that Wolfowitz’s “suggestion that they are too cowed to leave Baghdad ignores the great courage that many of these journalists have shown.” He then cited some examples.

Worse (for Wolfowitz), Kurtz also quoted an e-mail he had just received from former Pentagon spokesman Charles Krohn, a retired Army colonel: “It’s bad enough that Wolfowitz makes such a statement. What’s worse is the motive of the person who put the bug in his ear.”

Also this morning, Maureen Dowd complained in The New York Times that Wolfowitz was “sliming journalists … who are risking their lives traveling around Iraq to cover the cakewalk that became chaos.”

And CNN’s Christiane Amanpour weighed in, calling the Wolfowitz charge a “blatant” misrepresentation, noting that she and her colleagues traveled in Iraq at “great personal risk.” She added that she wouldn’t get into the kind of “character assassination” that Wolfowitz had employed.

Finally, Wolfowitz expressed “regret” for making the charge, adding, “I pray that you all may return safely.”

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