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Reporter takes credit for soldier's tough question

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Rummy to his friend, got a rough going-over during a town hall with soldiers in Kuwait earlier this week.

Now it turns out that a reporter embedded with the unit may have been playing town hall puppetmaster. Here's the CNN story:

Edward Lee Pitts, Chattanooga Times Free Press military affairs reporter, said he wanted to ask the question himself but was denied a chance to speak to Rumsfeld at what the Pentagon called a town hall meeting for GIs in Kuwait.

Pitts wrote the e-mail to co-workers at the Tennessee newspaper Wednesday, and it was published Thursday on the Web site of the Poynter Institute, a center for journalistic studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“I just had one of my best days as a journalist today,” Pitts wrote from Kuwait, where he is embedded with the 278th Regimental Combat Team, a Tennessee National Guard outfit preparing for deployment to Iraq.

“As luck would have it, our journey North was delayed just long enough so I could attend a visit today here by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.”

Soldiers at Camp Buehring, a staging area in the Kuwait desert, peppered Rumsfeld with queries, including one about armored vehicles from Spc. Thomas Wilson of the 278th. (Full story)

“Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?” Wilson asked.

The question prompted cheers from some of the approximately 2,300 troops assembled in a hangar to hear Rumsfeld.

Pitts said he was told only soldiers could ask questions, so he and two GIs “worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have.”

To make sure the soldiers were picked, Pitts said he “found the Sgt. in charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.”

Pitts' editor thought the actual story should have made Pitts' ingenuity clearer, according to this Editor and Publisher story:

Editor Backs Embed in Rumsfeld Incident, but Criticizes Aftermath
By Joe Strupp
Published: December 09, 2004 8:00 PM ET

NEW YORK The editor/publisher of the Chattanooga [Tenn.] Times Free Press offered support late Thursday for his embedded reporter who has been criticized for prompting a national guardsman to ask Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a controversial question during a visit to Kuwait.

“I think he was doing what he felt he was embedded to do: tell the stories of the soldiers of this unit,” said Tom Griscom, editor and publisher of the paper. But he criticized the embed's story about the incident, which did not mention the reporter's connection to the soldier who asked the question.

The embed, Lee Pitts, sought a response from Rumsfeld about why military units in Iraq are lacking proper armor for many vehicles. A lengthy email that he wrote to a fellow reporter ended up on several Web sites, including Romenesko, the Drudge Report and E & P Online, which Griscom lamented.

“He is there to write stories, not make news himself,” Griscom said of Pitts. The editor added that the recipient of the e-mail, whom he would not identify, should not have passed it along.

Griscom was communications director in the Reagan White House in 1987-1988.

He said Pitts' story on the incident, which ran Thursday, should have included an explanation of how the embed, barred from questioning Rumsfeld himself during an appearance in Kuwait Wednesday, convinced a Tennessee national guardsman to pose the question.

“In the rush of putting the story together, it was unfortunately a stitch that got lost,” said Griscom. “But tomorrow, we will pick that stitch up.” He has written an editor's note for the Friday paper.

According to an NYT story:

Rush Limbaugh … said on his radio program yesterday that Mr. Pitts had engaged in “cheap theatrics” that distorted the coverage. “For two days we think that this is an act of courage and bravery and, 'Oh, wow! Rummy got his,' ” Mr. Limbaugh said. “We found out the whole thing today is a setup.”

Actually, if you read Limbaugh's website, he didn't cover the original story! 

I didn't talk about this, and I had no clue what the truth of this was. There was just something about it that rubbed me wrong, and I'm not going to help feed the fire with this because there's something about it.

However, he was planning to have his staff do some public bitch sessions to have some fun with it. Stuff like: 

Dawn wanted to explain that the dishes in the dining room are not the right shade of white and gold that she ordered, and what are we going to do about it.

No armour for vehicles to prevent your legs from being blown off by improvised explosive devices (IEDs); the wrong dishes in a radio office. I can see the humour.

Limbaugh also said:

You can't have any sympathy for Rumsfeld on this, but I think it's just fair that you know how it happened. The original reports had this lone soldier with all this courage and so forth daring to take on the high command when in fact it was the result of being prompted by a reporter who wanted the questions asked. Now, back to this business here: This is still the way this great news ends up being shaded as bad is just another typical example of what has happened to big media today.

Apparently responding to their mind controller, many Limbaugh listeners phoned Griscom. But perhaps the Dittoheads should consider that if the soldiers weren't pissed at the situation, they wouldn't have played along — and the crowd of them damned sure wouldn't have cheered en masse when those impertinent questions were asked.

Also, if the Dittoheads are such great support-the-troops patriots, wouldn't they be more worried about troops stuck with inadequately armoured vehicles than a <sarcasm>”tainted”</sarcasm> town hall?

After all, Rummy didn't deny there was a problem. How could he?

But one spins as best one can.

Here's what Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita had to say about the incident, according to the CNN story:

“Town hall meetings are intended for soldiers to have dialogue with the secretary of defense,” Di Rita said in a news release.

“… The secretary provides ample opportunity for interaction with the press. It is better that others not infringe on the troops' opportunity to interact with superiors in the chain of command.”

I repeat my earlier assertion and add this — “it is also very important that others not prompt the troops to ask more pointed an embarrassing questions than might otherwise be the case.”

For the hell of it, here's Maureen Dowd's column on Rummy's pain: Lost in a masquerade.

Here's some additional NYT reporting:

G.I.'s query to Rumsfeld prompted by reporter

Back home, bluntness was no surprise

Rumsfeld and 'the Army you have' (letters)

Armour scarce for big trucks serving in Iraq

Troop concerns being addressed, Bush says

Military said working on armour upgrade

Rumsfeld: Soldier's challenge constructive

Please, sir, may I have some armour?

Iraq-bound troops confront Rumsfeld over lack of armour

Fri, December 10 2004 » * Big Picture Stuff, Main Page, Media