Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Updated December 14, 2004 at 8:25 pm, revised slightly on Dec. 15 at 1:00 am.
Is this story the Pitts? Rumsfeld, Zorn, Page, Limbaugh, Hume, Jacobson, Connity and Sweet, who is right? And who is left? And, who really got this story right? Certainly not the unusual pairing of Rush Limbaugh and Lynn Sweet. What were they thinking? Or, were they? Journalism, like politics, sometimes makes for strange bedfellows. Sweet v. Obama, the pursuit continues.
Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune columnist and blogger, www.chicagotribune.com/notebook, likes what Clarence Page had to say about Rummy’s recent response to a question from an American soldier in Iraq about the lack of appropriate protective armor for the vehicles [and more importantly for the soldiers inside the vehicles] being used in Iraq. The soldier, with some tutoring from an embedded reporter, asked the question at an event in Kuwait where reporters were not permitted to ask questions. Rummy responded, somewhat lamely, that "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

So any fair and balanced person would have to say—it was a good question and a bad answer by the Secretary of Defense. A better answer would have been: “While we didn’t anticipate the improvised explosive devices [“IEDs”] being placed along the road, we should have. Moreover, while we have stepped up the production, tremendously, of armored vehicles better equipped to deal with IEDs, it has not been enough and I will move mountains to see that the pace of production is increased to a level that corresponds better to the requirements of the situation.

Indeed, there is an open, and very important, question as to why the production rate has not gone up faster than it has for better armored vehicles. Assuming it took, say, three months after the War began for the DOD to grasp that it had a problem that had not been anticipated, shouldn’t there have been a stronger adjustment by DOD in the last year and a half? But, that is another story.

As to the propriety of the reporter’s actions, it is interesting that those journalistic judgments do not seem to be breaking down completely along liberal/conservative lines, at least based on a non-scientific, non-random sampling of journalistic opinion.

For instance, Clarence Page, whose words are quoted with apparent approval in [liberal] Eric Zorn’s blog, generally is classified as a liberal, himself. Page finds no problem with the reporter’s actions and chastises Rush Limbaugh for doing so, with Page writing:

"Yet some partisan critics, apparently unable to defend (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld, attacked (Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Edward Lee) Pitts. 'He created news in order to cover it,' said conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh. '... We found out the whole thing ... is a setup.' Setup to do what? Tell the truth?"

Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief and columnist, who generally is not thought of as a right winger but instead as someone who leans left, said on the Chicago Fox Affiliate TV station, WFLD, this Sunday, that reporter Pitt’s actions were a little “dicey,” apparently because Sweet thinks the reporter was supposed to be there to cover the Secretary of Defense answering questions from the soldiers, not to make news. Fox Chicago Perspective [WFLD, 8:00-9:00 am, every Sunday] hosts, Walter Jacobson and Jack Connity, disagreed with Sweet, finding no fault with Pitts’ use of the soldier. Certainly Skippy [Walter] is to the left on the political dial and Jack seems to lean that way, as well.

But, look at Brit Hume, who may oversee a “Fair and Balanced,” show when he hosts Fox News Channel’s Special Report [every weekday evening, 5:00 pm and 11:00 pm], but in approach and outlook, Hume certainly leans to the right. Brit, on Fox News Channel’s “Fox News Sunday” [hosted by Chris Wallace], this Sunday as a panelist, saw no problems whatsoever with the journalist using a soldier to get his question out. Indeed, Brit complimented journalist Pitts for his resourcefulness in finding a way to get his question asked.

So, totaling it up, we have five liberals of varying degrees [Page, Zorn, Jacobson, Connity and Sweet] splitting 4 to 1 in favor of the propriety of the reporter “using” the soldier to get his question out. And, we have two conservatives of varying degrees [Limbaugh and Hume] splitting 1 to 1 as to the propriety of the reporter’s actions.

Lynn Sweet’s criticism of Pitts for injecting himself into the story is a little ironic in light of Lynn apparently trying to become U. S. Senator-Elect Barack Obama’s Ahab [Obama's Ahab is Eric Zorn's perfect choice of phrasing for what Sweet has been doing since Obama was elected on November 2, if not before. See Zorn blog entry, dated December 7, updated 3:16 pm] as she is fighting to demonstrate that Obama, by not placing on a publicly distributed daily schedule (a) his private meetings, e.g., a recent lunch with billionaire Warren Buffett in which Barack used campaign funds to cover the cost of a chartered jet flight to get there and (b) various fundraisers, including with such lefties as George Soros during his U. S. Senate campaign, is doing something wrong or inappropriate. Sweet makes this contention, even though Sweet concedes the law does not require such events to be placed on a daily schedule, distributed to the media and public - neither by Barack nor by any other pols.

At this point, journalists and perhaps the public seem more interested in Lynn’s dogged battle to require disclosure [that is not legally required] from Barack than they do in her subject--the non-disclosure by Barack Obama of his lunch companions. Sweet’s obsession with finding a public flaw in the political profile of Barack Obama is indeed becoming the story, as Jacobson and Connity interviewed Sweet as much if not more on that story this Sunday than they did on Barack’s penchant for “secrecy,” as Lynn Sweet would like to put it. Maybe it is Lynn Sweet and not her fellow journalist Edward Lee Pitts, who has made a “dicey” move.

Me? Well, I am tough, but fair-- when I am not being simply fair and balanced. And, I am going with Zorn, Brit, Skippy, Jack and Clarence on this one. Pitts did something wrong by helping a soldier formulate a question that was on virtually every soldier’s [who was in the room] mind? Boy, did Rush-Sweet get that wrong. What were they thinking? Or, were they?

As to why Rummy gave such a dumb answer, perhaps age and the burden of a very hard job for the last four years is taking its toll on the fearless, civilian leader of the World’s greatest military machine. It may not be just the Illinois GOP that needs a change at the top. It could be the DOD, as well.

But, one thing should be noted, and the only place I saw it noted was on the Fox News Channel. And, that is that Rumsfeld got a standing ovation from the soldiers when he concluded the Question-Answer session at the event in Kuwait with the American soldiers—many of whom are on their way to Iraq or were on their way back from Iraq. That kind of ovation for Rummy means something. But I don’t think Page, Zorn, Jacobson and Connity or Sweet, for that matter, will be writing or speaking about that anytime soon.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at JBCG@aol.com