In His Own Words: The Rumsfeld War Reporting Critique

    The media have been in a bit of a buzz about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's speech last week attacking media coverage of Iraq. A peek at the official D.O.D. transcript shows the media section came near the end, and are only about 25 percent of his remarks. I thought it might help to post those original remarks for discussion, especially since media accounts tended to avoid quoting much of it.

    We have arrived at a strange time in this country where the worst about America and our military seems to so quickly be taken as truth by the press and reported and spread around the world -- often with little context and little scrutiny -- let alone correction or accountability after the fact.  Speed it appears is the critical determinant.  Less so, context.

    Recently there were claims by two Iraqis on a speaking tour that U.S. soldiers attacked them with lions.  It was widely reported around the United States.  It is still without substantiation.  And yet that story was spread across the globe.  Not too long ago, there was a false and terribly damaging story about a Koran that was supposedly flushed down a toilet in Guantanamo, and in the riots that followed in several countries, some people were killed.  And a recent New York Times editorial implied that America’s armed forces -- your armed forces -- our armed forces -- use tactics reminiscent of Saddam Hussein.

    I understand that there may be great pressure on many of them to tell a dramatic story.  And while it is easy to use a bombing or a terrorist attack to support that interest, it is not always the most accurate story or at least not the full story.

    Consider this:  You couldn’t tell the full story of Iwo Jima simply by listing the nearly 26,000 Americans that were casualties in a brief 40 days at Iwo Jima; or you couldn’t explain the importance of Grant’s push into Virginia just by noting the savagery of the battles.  And they were savage.  So too, in Iraq, it is appropriate to note not only how many Americans have been killed -- and may God bless them and their families -- but what they died for -- or more accurately, what they lived for.

    So I suggest -- and I take for granted the good intentions of the people in the media -- I suggest that we ask:  how will history judge -- if it does -- the reporting some decades from now when Iraq’s path is settled?

    I would urge us all to make every effort to ensure -- government and the media -- to make every effort to ensure that we’re trying to tell the whole story.

    Further I think it’s worth noting that there are 155,000 or 156,000 today Americans in uniform who are sending back e-mails to their friends and families, telling them what they’re seeing.  And it’s a slice of what is actually happening.  It’s not the total picture.  But it’s a slice.  And it’s an accurate slice.  It’s the truth as they see it.  And much of it is different than what those in the United States are seeing and reading.

    Our country is waging a battle unlike any other in history.  We are waging it in a media age that’s unlike any war that war fighters have ever known.  Think of it.  This is the first war of the 21st Century.  It’s the first war to be conducted with talk radio, and 24-hour news, and bloggers, and emails, and digital cameras, and Sony video cams, and all of these things that bring so much information near instantaneously to people.  And in this new century, we all need to make adjustments -- government and the media alike.  And change is hard -- let there be no doubt.

    We are all Americans.  We are all in this together.  And what we do today will not only impact us, but it will surely impact our children and our grandchildren, and the kind of world they will live in. Thank you.  I’d be happy to respond to some questions.

Tim Graham's picture