Thursday, December 09, 2004

Was the Rumsfeld Question Planted?

We can call it "Hillbilly ArmorGate" (did you notice how NY Times Op Ed writers latched onto and really relished the usage? Really relished, Esp Maureen Dowd?) TheDrudgereport today attained an email from journalist Edward Lee Pitts of The Greeneville Sun, admitting he planted the question-heard-round-the-world and read above the fold on A1 of the New York Times:



"Sent: Wednesday, December 8, 2004 4:44 PM

"To: Staffers

"Subject: RE: Way to go"

"I just had one of my best days as a journalist today. As luck would have it, our journey North was delayed just long enough see I could attend a visit today here by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. I was told yesterday that only soldiers could ask questions so I brought two of them along with me as my escorts. Before hand we worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have. While waiting for the VIP, I went and 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.

"So during the Q&A session, one of my guys was the second person called on. When he asked Rumsfeld why after two years here soldiers are still having to dig through trash bins to find rusted scrap metal and cracked ballistic windows for their Humvees, the place erupted in cheers so loud that Rumsfeld had to ask the guy to repeat his question. Then Rumsfeld answered something about it being 'not a lack of desire or money but a logistics/physics problem.' He said he recently saw about 8 of the special up-armored Humvees guarding Washington, DC, and he promised that they would no longer be used for that and that he would send them over here. Then he asked a three star general standing behind him, the commander of all ground forces here, to also answer the question. The general said it was a problem he is working on.

"The great part was that after the event was over the throng of national media following Rumsfeld- The New York Times, AP, all the major networks -- swarmed to the two soldiers I brought from the unit I am embedded with. Out of the 1,000 or so troops at the event there were only a handful of guys from my unit b/c the rest were too busy prepping for our trip north. The national media asked if they were the guys with the armor problem and then stuck cameras in their faces. The NY Times reporter asked me to email him the stories I had already done on it, but I said he could search for them himself on the Internet and he better not steal any of my lines. I have been trying to get this story out for weeks- as soon as I found out I would be on an unarmored truck- and my paper published two stories on it. But it felt good to hand it off to the national press. I believe lives are at stake with so many soldiers going across the border riding with scrap metal as protection. It may be to late for the unit I am with, but hopefully not for those who come after.

"The press officer in charge of my regiment, the 278th, came up to me afterwords and asked if my story would be positive. I replied that I would write the truth. Then I pointed at the horde of national media pointing cameras and mics at the 278th guys and said he had bigger problems on his hands than the Chattanooga Times Free Press. This is what this job is all about - people need to know. The soldier who asked the question said he felt good b/c he took his complaints to the top. When he got back to his unit most of the guys patted him on the back but a few of the officers were upset b/c they thought it would make them look bad. From what I understand this is all over the news back home.



Romenesko is also running the email. So, no doubt, this is going to be a whole Ethics-in-Journalism debate (usually on at 3AM on C-Span), that will find its way on CNN's Howie Kurtz Reliable Sources on Saturday (see if my prediction is true, I dare you).

Okay, question -- is this a bad thing, Lee planting the question (only soldiers were allowed to speak) if he thought he was doing the right thing for the troops with which he was embedded?

And, if this is bad -- ethically, morally, this planting the question -- how bad is it? Certainly, Drudge is correct in bringing this to the media's attention -- we should know from whence the famous question came, especially if it came from a professional question asker (not the soldier, whose face graces A1 of The Old Gray Lady), and threw our Secretary of Defense off point.

Ought the journo to be demonized -- as he no doubt will be to some degree tomorrow or even earlier? These are the questions that should be asked.

Drudge will have the last word here, "When reached Thursday morning, various Chattanooga Times Free Press staffers offered 'no comment' on the development.


(S)wine said...

Whoa, Ron...this is great scoop. By the way, thanks for your O'Dowd nod. I don't know...tough question you're posing. Something smells a bit when the press passes on questions to the armed forces. But then again, there are some who are not quite as articulate as they should...still, there will always be some eyebrow-raising when junks like this happens. More lines being blurred, what can I say.

The Corsair said...

Dowd counts! I agree. This is a hard Journalism Ethics case. It was the biggest story yesterday. If the journo hadn't bragged in an email -- trying to glom some glory -- one might have said, 'hey, sure the q and a was for soldiers unprompted only, but he was doing it for his embedded buddies, fellow Americans.

The gloating (this was my best. day. EVER) detracts from that argument. I was also a little irked by the constant reference on the Op Ed page of "hillbilly armor." I make hillbilly jokes, but I'm a blog, and she's supposed to be the Old Gray Lady.

More to come, via Fox News and talk radio ...

(S)wine said...

Did I just write O'Dowd? Am I losing it here? Sorry...
Yes, everyone's running away with this story. I'll stay tuned--but HERE only.