Press Distorted Rumsfeld's Remarks to Soldiers by Taking Him Out of Context

The Washington Post and NBC’s “Today” show both took out of context a statement Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made to a soldier at a town hall meeting in Kuwait on December 8.

The out-of-context comment made Rumsfeld seem callous about inadequate armor on the vehicles U.S. forces are taking into Iraq.

According to an NBC News transcript, here’s how Katie Couric presented Rumsfeld’s remarks on December 9 while interviewing retired Gen. Tommy Franks:

Couric: . . .we’re going to roll what he [a soldier] had to say, and–and listen to what Secretary Rums–how Secretary Rumsfeld . . .

Gen. Franks: Right.

Couric: . . . responded. Let’s listen.

Specialist Thomas Wilson: Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles? And why don’t we have those resources readily available to us? [Soldiers applauding]

Mr. Donald Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defense): 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.

Similarly, in a front page December 9 story, The Washington Post jumped directly from the soldier’s saying, “We do not have proper . . . vehicles to carry with us north,” to Rumsfeld’s responding with the remark quoted above by NBC. But a Pentagon transcript puts Rumsfeld’s statement in a different context. When the soldier completed his question with, “We do not have proper armament vehicles to carry with us north,” Rumsfeld said:

    “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 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 capability of doing it. As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time. . . .”

There were more than 90 well-considered words in Rumsfeld’s response before he got to the little snippet presented by Couric and the Post.