Monday, December 20, 2004
About those humvees: Two weeks ago there was a huge media brouhaha over a national guardsman's question to Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld about a lack of armored Humvees and how the soldiers were digging through junkyards to come up with spare bits of metal to reinforce their humvees.
The entire issue also became a subject of journalism ethics questions as it was soon revealed that an embedded reporter had not only helped the soldier "phrase" the question, but had also directed the guy carrying the microphone to his planted soldier.
I didn't write anything about it at the time, mainly because something was tickling my Bolshevik Storytelling meter. The soldiers who asked the question hadn't even moved into Iraq yet, they were staging in Kuwait at the time of Rumsfeld's town hall meeting. They were also relieving other soldiers, already in Iraq. Was the military's up-armoring project so far behind that those soldiers didn't have any up-armored humvees? Surely none of those up-armored humvees were leaving the country -- that would be criminally stupid (though not completely outside the realm of possibility).
Well, it turns out that the rumors of the incompetence of Secretary Rumsfeld were exaggerated, according to an unreported press conference pointed out by Time's blog-of-the-year Powerline.com.
The first point is that you'll recollect that one of the questions was the status of the 278 ACR; in other words, the date that we had the visit by the secretary of Defense, we had a question about their up-armoring status. When the question was asked, 20 vehicles remained to be up-armored at that point. We completed those 20 vehicles in the next day. And so over 800 vehicles from the 278 ACR were up-armored, and they are a part now of their total force that is operating up in Iraq.
Q On the 278th, can you repeat this? At the time the question was asked, the planted question, the unit had 784 of its 804 vehicles armored?
GEN. SPEAKES: Here is the overall solution that you see. And what we've had to do is -- the theater had to take care of 830 total vehicles. So this shows you the calculus that was used. Up north in Iraq, they drew 119 up-armored humvees from what we call stay-behind equipment. That is equipment from a force that was already up there. We went ahead and applied 38 add-on armor kits to piece of equipment they deployed over on a ship. They also had down in Kuwait 214 stay- behind equipment pieces that were add-on armor kits. And then over here they had 459 pieces of equipment that were given level-three protection. And so when you put all this together, that comes up with 830.
Q At the time of the question -- summarize this, now -- that unit that the kid was complaining about was mostly armored?
GEN. SPEAKES: Yes. In other words, we completed all the armoring within 24 hours of the time the question was asked.
Q If he hadn't asked that question, would the up-armoring have been accomplished within 24 hours?
GEN. SPEAKES: Yes. This was already an existing program. [emphasis added]
The question ... the entire issue ... was Bolshevik Storytelling. The mainstream media, no friend of Rumsfeld, trumpeted the defense secretary's "incompetence" when it suited them. And now that the utter falsehood of the "question" has been proven -- silence. That press conferense was held Wednesday morning. Anyone remember a correction or follow-up story in Thursday's paper?
On a related note: It does turn out that the Army is about 6,000 up-armor kits short, but it also turns out that it's not Rumsfeld's fault -- instead it is the fault of all of the politicians in Congress calling for his head. As Donald Sensing points out:
My long-term readers may recall that I am no member of the Donald Rumsfeld fan club myself, but the calls for his head from US Senators over the phony armor shortage is absurd - especially from Republican Sen. John McCain; I increasingly wonder whether he knows he often seems to disconnect brain from tongue when making the talk shows. McCain's Senate duties have included direct oversight of DOD expenditures since the years of the Clinton administration.
Yet the Tennessean reported,
The Pentagon is spending $4.1 billion over the next year to add armor to vehicles in Iraq. [Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey] Sorenson said 35,000 of them need armored protection, of which 29,000 have been funded by Congress.
Got that? The Army's funding for armor is 6,000 vehicles short because John McCain won't choke up the money.
All of which is to say that it's business as usual on Capitol Hill: to seem rather than to be.
So, is the mainstream media biased against the Republican Secretary of Defense, or just incompetent? Either way, the answer isn't good for journalism.