Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Associated Press' Robert Burns

I know that attacking media bias is a staple of the blogosphere. Many websites and organizations are dedicated to doing that and only that and they do it much better than I can, but I really wanted to comment on this. Over the past year whenever I looked at an example pointed out about the Associated Press I noticed one name appearing again and again. Robert Burns, their military writer.

The reason I noticed his name isn’t that he is more biased than the other reporters for the AP, it’s that it kept appearing every time there were particularly egregious distortions and outright falsehoods in the stories. Because of the fleeting nature of AP stories and the way they change them throughout their time of relevance it is difficult to reference the original source material.

These are a few of the pieces that I noticed over the past months that happened to stick in my head.

This one, highlighted at Powerline, is what prompted me to write about this. It’s a story about yesterday’s press conference with General Casey and Donald Rumsfeld. Here is Robert Burns’ piece on the subject. This is Donna Miles of the American Forces Press Service: "Casey Cites Continued Progress in Iraq Despite Challenges." As Hinderocket wrote, "Were they in the same room?"

About a week ago there was an item, pointed out by Holly Aho at The Mudville Gazette, about military recruiting shortfalls. Once again Burns was on the case. His story was titled “Military Faces Biggest Recruiting Slump In Years." He fails to note two rather important points. One, only the Army is down, the other services exceeded their goals. Two, even the Army isn’t down, it just isn’t growing at the rate they wanted to. Big Lizard’s blog does a fantastic takedown on this story. Just crucifies the dishonestly bad logic employed by Burns.

Finally, and this is the one that first got me to notice Mr. Burns’ name, is the story about the soldier questioning Rumsfeld about Humvee armor last year. This is the one that is just outright false. No distortion, just factually inaccurate. Powerline, once again hammered the AP at the time.

The AP is at it again, with this report about Secretary Rumsfeld's trip to Mosul to visit the troops there:

The questions from the troops for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were considerably more friendly on his Christmas Eve visit to Iraq than they were on his previous trip to the region a couple of weeks ago.

Two weeks ago at a forward base in Kuwait, a handful of soldiers openly challenged him about inadequate equipment and long deployments.

Rumsfeld cut off their complaints by saying, "You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have." That set off a wave of criticism of the defense chief's brusque manner.

This is pure fabrication. The transcript of Rumsfeld's question and answer session in Kuwait is here. Judge for yourself whether Rumsfeld "cut off [the soldiers'] complaints":

Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary. My question is more logistical. We’ve had troops in Iraq for coming up on three years and we’ve always staged here out of Kuwait. Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromise ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles and why don’t we have those resources readily available to us? [Applause]

SEC. RUMSFELD: I missed the first part of your question. And could you repeat it for me?

Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary. Our soldiers have been fighting in Iraq for coming up on three years. A lot of us are getting ready to move north relatively soon. Our vehicles are not armored. We’re digging pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that’s already been shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best out of this scrap to put on our vehicles to take into combat. We do not have proper armament vehicles to carry with us north.

SEC. RUMSFELD: I talked to the General coming out here about the pace at which the vehicles are being armored. They have been brought from all over the world, wherever they’re not needed, to a place here where they are needed. I’m told that they are being – the Army is – I think it’s something like 400 a month are being done. And it’s essentially a matter of physics. It isn’t a matter of money. It isn’t a matter on the part of the Army of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it.

As you know, you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time. Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate that they believe – it’s a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously, but a rate that they believe is the rate that is all that can be accomplished at this moment.

I can assure you that General Schoomaker and the leadership in the Army and certainly General Whitcomb are sensitive to the fact that not every vehicle has the degree of armor that would be desirable for it to have, but that they’re working at it at a good clip. It’s interesting, I’ve talked a great deal about this with a team of people who’ve been working on it hard at the Pentagon. And if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up. And you can go down and, the vehicle, the goal we have is to have as many of those vehicles as is humanly possible with the appropriate level of armor available for the troops. And that is what the Army has been working on.

And General Whitcomb, is there anything you’d want to add to that?

GEN. WHITCOMB: Nothing. [Laughter] Mr. Secretary, I’d be happy to. That is a focus on what we do here in Kuwait and what is done up in the theater, both in Iraq and also in Afghanistan. As the secretary has said, it’s not a matter of money or desire; it is a matter of the logistics of being able to produce it. The 699th, the team that we’ve got here in Kuwait has done [Cheers] a tremendous effort to take that steel that they have and cut it, prefab it and put it on vehicles. But there is nobody from the president on down that is not aware that this is a challenge for us and this is a desire for us to accomplish.

SEC. RUMSFELD: The other day, after there was a big threat alert in Washington, D.C. in connection with the elections, as I recall, I looked outside the Pentagon and there were six or eight up-armored humvees. They’re not there anymore. [Cheers] [Applause] They’re en route out here, I can assure you. Next. Way in the back. Yes.

What a country, in which a National Guardsman can be "cut off" so "brusquely" by one of the most powerful men in the world. Actually, if you read the whole transcript, what comes through are Secretary Rumsfeld's forthrightness, common sense and immense good humor, and the affection the troops show for their leader.