Sunday, February 06, 2005
Tough questions vs. dishonesty: On today's "Meet the Press," Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld didn't let critically-acclaimed journalist Tim Russert get away with a gross mischaracterization/video dowdifying of the infamous "armored humvees" question.
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah, I understand. Some things that members of Congress has said. This is Susan Collins, a Republican--not a Democrat, Republican: "I think there are increasing concerns about [Secretary Rumsfeld's] leadership of the war, the repeated failures to predict the strengths of the insurgency, the lack of essential safety equipment for our troops, the reluctance to expand the number of troops."
I want to talk--we've talked about insurgency. I want to bring you back to the whole debate about the use of essential safety equipment for our troops and take you back to December--we haven't seen you since then--when Thomas Wilson stood up and asked you a question. I want to show you that exchange and come back and talk about it.
(Videotape, December 8, 2004):
SPC. THOMAS WILSON: Now, why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles and why don't we have those resources readily available to us?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: 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.
The transcript doesn't show it, but those two paragraphs in the videotape were spliced together from disparate portions of Rumsfeld's statement. Rumsfeld would have none of it.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, Specialist Wilson did acknowledge he worked with a journalist in crafting that question.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Yeah, but wait a minute. Let me get into this a little bit.
MR. RUSSERT: Sure.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: That was unfair and it was selectively taking out two sentences from a long exchange--there it is--that took place. And when you suggested that that's how I answered that question, that is factually wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: No, we...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: That is not how I answered that question.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Mr. Secretary, it clearly represents the exchange and...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: It does not.
MR. RUSSERT: All right. What is missing?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: You want to hear the exchange? There is it. It's right here. I'll read it to you.
MR. RUSSERT: I just...
Rusmfeld is right. If Russert's two paragraph excerpt "clearly represents the exchange," then American journalism has another prominent example of malpractice.
Rumsfeld then proceeded to read the entirety of his answer.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: If you're going to quote pieces of it, I'll give you the exchange. He asked that question, and I said, "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 General Schumacher and the leadership of the Army and certainly General 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. And, General Whitcomb, is there anything you want to add?" And then he spoke.
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. Now, let's go back to Susan Collins' comment, Senator Collins...
Russert should issue a public apology. He won't, but he should. His quote selection was obviously not "representative" of the exchange. It's journalism at its worst. Russert was attempting to make a political point. He was not informing the public, he was trying to deceive the public.
Any problems journalism is having nowadays is self-inflicted. Thanks for the new wound, Russert.