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White House Calls Editorials Urging Rumsfeld Exit 'Shabby'

Editor & Publisher | November 5, 2006

NEW YORK The White House is dismissing fresh calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's ouster, calling an editorial in leading newspapers for the military "a shabby piece of work."

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Saturday the president has shrugged off an editorial by the Military Times Media Group, which publishes the Army Times, Marine Times, Air Force Times and Navy Times, calling for Bush to fire Rumsfeld. Bushs feels it is merely "grandstanding," he added. The editorial says Rumsfeld has "lost credibility" with top officers.

Snow called the editorial "a caricature" and a "shabby piece of work" filled with inaccuracies. He said it implied the administration's made nothing but "rosy" predictions about Iraq. Snow said that isn't true, leading the president to "shrug it off."

He also charged that the military papers, produced for military personnel by a subsidiary of Gannett, are biased, in that Gannett does not -- he said -- have a single newspaper with a conservative editorial page. This is not true, however.

Here is the relevant portion of transcript from Saturday's briefing.

MR. SNOW: I mean, observation number one is everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. And as a factual matter, the editorial -- which is a uniform editorial that I guess all the papers are being told to carried -- is just -- it's a shabby piece of work. I'll run through some of it for you.

The other important thing to note is this -- although these are Army Times and the Military Times, they're a Gannett publication. A lot of people are thinking, aha, what you have are a lot of military people in open revolt against the President, when, in fact, you've got a lot of Gannett editorial writers, which would be thoroughly consistent with USA Today and the rest of the Gannett chain, which I think, if memory serves, does not have a single strong conservative editorial page in the entire chain.

Hang on a second, I've got a printout of it, because I went through the thing. Give me a moment. The editorial, for one thing, makes the allegation that -- it says, "One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld." That's just flat not true. And what they do is they revert to cheesy old partisan talking points about "mission accomplished," which, as you recall, was referring to the mission of the USS Abraham Lincoln and the President, on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln, talked about a long, hard fight to come, and so on.

But maybe the worst is this, it says, "A new course of criticism is beginning to resonate. Active duty military leaders are starting to voice misgivings about the war's planning." It then goes on to site General John Abizaid completely out of context, when he said before Congress -- he said, "I believe the sectarian violence probably is as bad as I've seen it. It's possible that Iraq could move toward civil war."

The following month General Casey said -- let's see, a couple of things. First, he said that, "A, I think we can prevent a civil war. Secondly, things in a counter-insurgency environment, as you well know, take time to mature militarily and politically, and we're confident that with the measures we're taking now we can be successful."

General Casey also said recently, "The situation is hard, but Iraq is not a country that's awash in sectarian violence. I think it's important to remind people that 90 percent of the sectarian violence in Iraq takes place in about a 30-mile radius from the center of Baghdad, and, secondly, that 90 percent of all violence takes place in five provinces."

There is also the notion in here -- in this editorial -- let me get this a little neater, because I keep flipping back and forth. Here we go, sorry. Here's another one, "Despite the best efforts of American trainers, the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition." Again, dramatically at odds with what we've been seeing on the ground in Iraq, especially with a unity government that is making aggressive moves toward tamping down sectarian violence and also building a sense of national unity -- yet, 12 million people vote.

So what you have in here is sort of a caricature -- just today, almost in direct defiance of what the editorial is asserting, you had militias going in -- you had Iraqi police going in and, according to one report, taking down 53 al Qaeda members. Now, that's precisely the sort of thing that we've been talking about from the beginning, which is training up and making battle capable not only the Iraq security forces, but also Iraqi police forces.

Q Has the President seen or been told about the editorials?

MR. SNOW: He's been told about the editorial.

Q His reaction?

MR. SNOW: His reaction was just to sort of shrug it off. I mean, he understands what editorial writers sometimes do, and in this case, they're grandstanding. The notion that somehow, as the editorial says, that this is not intended to influence the elections -- you've got to be kidding me. I mean, if they didn't want it to influence the elections, they could have published it Wednesday.

In addition, they clearly skipped school last week when General Caldwell was giving the weekly briefing, talking about the metrics in Baghdad and around Iraq. And I had laid that out before in a press briefing, as well.

Q We know what the President said in the interview with the wire services last week, and that was he was doing a fine job. But couldn't things change after the elections, depending on how they go?

MR. SNOW: The President is Commander-in-Chief. At any time he can make military decisions, and will do so; but he's expressed his confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld. I mean, look, the more important thing in this editorial is just the fact that it gives the false impression that there is this -- Americans are going to read this and they're going to say, oh, the Army Times is against this and the Navy Times and so on -- that somehow that there is a reaction against the President by military personnel. This is by editorial writers who work in Arlington, Virginia.

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