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Rumsfeld, Myers Again Criticize War Coverage by Thomas E. Ricks

Rumsfeld, Myers Again Criticize War Coverage
Ex-Military Officers Are Singled Out

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2003; Page A28

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his top military officer returned to one of their favorite recent themes yesterday, criticizing the media's coverage of the war in Iraq as at times "inaccurate" and "conflicting."

Asked at a "town hall" meeting with Pentagon employees about the perception that the media gave a negative view of the war, Rumsfeld complained that not long ago, "people were saying that the plan was terrible, and . . . there weren't enough people, and . . . there were going to be, you know, tens of thousands of casualties, and it was going to take forever."

But he described two very different sides to the coverage. On the one hand, he specifically criticized "retired military officers" who opined on television and newspapers "that constantly, you know, blare big headlines of 'Henny Penny: The Sky Is Falling,' 'It's Just Terrible,' 'Isn't It Awful?' " On the other, Rumsfeld strongly endorsed the reports that came from the hundreds of journalists "embedded " with units fighting the war. "The American people were able to see slices of what took place," he said. "They could see accurate presentations and representations and written accounts of what the men and women in uniform were doing."

As a "side benefit," he predicted, a new generation of journalists would be better informed about the character of those who serve in the U.S. military.

The defense secretary also expressed confidence in the ability of the American people to deal with negative reporting, saying they could "absorb an enormous amount of misinformation, inaccurate information, conflicting information, and kind of sort it out."

Speaking with Rumsfeld, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, also praised the embedding policy, saying he thought it "may over time get us away from some of the cynicism that has developed."

Earlier this month, the soft-spoken Myers delivered an unusually passionate blast at the media and the retired officers who provided war commentary on television. He said the second-guessing by active and retired military officers was "bogus" and harmful to troops engaged in combat.

While Rumsfeld and Myers clearly disagree with much of the coverage of the war, the intensity of their feeling appears fueled in part by a running argument with retired Army officers -- and some still on active duty -- about the risks incurred in their war plan. In a marked departure from military practice, the U.S. approach to invading Iraq relied on an unsecured supply line and lacked heavy reinforcements nearby.

"I still maintain that the campaign plan carried some very big risks," one retired Army general, Frederick J. Kroesen, said yesterday in response to Rumsfeld's comments. "I just know that in the 3rd Division commander's shoes, I would have felt very lonely on occasion, not having a reserve force available to bail me out of trouble."

That, said Kroesen, who didn't appear on television during the war, was "the essence of all the TV generals' complaints -- we did not have the force in being that could absolutely guarantee success. As it turned out, we didn't need it, but what if we had?"

But another retired Army four-star general, George Joulwan, said he thought Rumsfeld and Myers had a point. "I think they made a wise decision, taking prudent risks," he said.

At any rate, he added, "We need to get beyond this."

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