When in doubt, blame the messenger.....
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2004; 8:35 AM
Paul Wolfowitz is basically accusing journalists of cowardice.
In case you missed it, here's what the deputy secretary of defense had to say this week on Capitol Hill:
"Frankly, part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors."
Before I tell you what I think, let me share some comments from an e-mail I received from former Pentagon spokesman Charles Krohn, a retired Army colonel:
"It's bad enough that Wolfowitz makes such a statement. What's worse is the motive of the person who put the bug in his ear. Having spent three months in the presidential palace in Iraq supporting the infrastructure reconstruction program, I worked closely with the media who worked closely with me. . . .
"But when the insurgency started pushing news south, some of the same voices complained about the media's falling down on the job. This is worse than hypocrisy; it's scandalous. When senior officials express disappointment that schemes to manipulate the media aren't working well, one might say it's a triumph of principle over power. A truly professional public affairs staff could have worked out compromises. Unfortunately, the political dilettantes running the show were unable to rise to this level."
Wolfowitz is right on one point: Western journalists in Iraq have sharply curtailed their travel, and to their great frustration, we are getting a narrower view of Iraq as a result. But the suggestion that they are too cowed to leave Baghdad ignores the great courage that many of these journalists have shown.
In the past couple of months:
• New York Times reporter John Burns and several colleagues were blindfolded and driven to a makeshift prison before being released after eight hours.
• Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman and his driver were abducted by gun-toting men with scarves over their faces before being released.
• Washington Post reporter Dan Williams barely escaped death when his car came under hostile fire after he traveled to Fallujah.
• CNN correspondent Michael Holmes also escaped injury when his car was blasted by AK-47s, but two of CNN's Iraqi employees were killed.
• In another attack, hostile fire shattered the window in a car carrying Fox's Geraldo Rivera.
Wouldn't any prudent person be careful about traveling on these dangerous roads? Are journalists supposed to be cowboys who chase stories with no regard to their personal safety? And aren't the reporters operating in an environment that administration officials predicted long ago would be a safe and democratic environment once Saddam was toppled?
Oh, and one more thing. If Paul Wolfowitz has any evidence of the press publishing "rumors" in Iraq, he should put it out, and I'll criticize the perpetrators as well. There's a valid argument over whether the media are overplaying the violence and overlooking the progress being made in Iraq. But I'm not aware of anyone running with flat-out rumors.