Secretary Urges Media to Report Full Story on Iraq
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2005 As the United States wages its first war with widespread 24/7 news coverage, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged the media to ensure it's telling the whole story about Iraq, not just focusing on events that make dramatic headlines.
Rumsfeld, speaking at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University's campus here Dec. 5, said troops frequently ask him why the American people aren't getting a more accurate picture of what's happening in Iraq. They question why violence seems to get the heaviest coverage, while "good news" stories about successes tend to go unreported.
The secretary noted the media's indispensable role in keeping people informed and holding the government to account. Many in the media have done "excellent reporting" in Iraq, and some have been killed in the process, he said.
"But it's important also for the media to hold itself to account," Rumsfeld told the group.
"We've 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," the secretary said. Often this reporting occurs with little or no context or scrutiny, let alone correction or accountability, even after the fact, he said. Speed appears to be more important than accuracy or context to some reporters, he said, and their reports can spread around the globe, regardless of their validity.
Rumsfeld cited the recent example of the widespread media coverage of two Iraqis' claims that U.S. soldiers had attacked them with lions. These claims are still without substantiation, he said.
In May, rioting and several deaths resulted from what Rumsfeld called "a false and damaging" news story about a Koran being flushed down a toilet at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In yet another instance, a recent New York Times editorial implied that the U.S. armed forces were using tactics Rumsfeld called "reminiscent of Saddam Hussein."
Similarly, news reports that focus simply on terror attacks and bombings don't paint an accurate picture or tell the whole story of what's happening in Iraq, the secretary said.
"You couldn't tell the full story of Iwo Jima simply by listing the nearly 26,000 Americans that were casualties over about 40 days ... or explain the importance of (Gen. Ulysses S.) Grant's push to Virginia just by noting the savagery of the battles, and they were savage," Rumsfeld said.
Similarly, the secretary said, telling the story of what's happening in Iraq by focusing only on how many Americans have died leaves much of the story untold. Just as important, he said, is the story of what those troops died for and what they lived for.
Emails deployed troops send to friends and families tell more of that story, Rumsfeld said. "And much of it is different than what those in the United States are seeing and reading (in the press)," he said.
Rumsfeld urged reporters and editors to do some soul searching as they report on events in Iraq. He questioned how history will judge their reporting in the decades ahead, after Iraq's path is settled.
"I would urge us all -- government and the media -- to make every effort to ensure we are trying to tell the whole story," he said.
"We are all Americans. We are all in this together," Rumsfeld concluded. "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'll live in."