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An Exhibition of Conservative Paranoia

Exhibit 30: Rummy and the Reporter: A Double Standard

The ConWeb thinks reporters should be aggressive in getting answers from politicians -- just not the Republican ones.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 12/17/2004

When is it bad for reporter to resort to innovative tactics to get a public figure to answer a question? When said public figure is a Republican, the ConWeb appears to believe.

So it is with the story that Edward Lee Pitts, a Chattanooga, Tenn., newspaper reporter embedded with U.S. troops, worked with his soldiers to put defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the spot about vehicle armor in Iraq.

A Dec. 9 WorldNetDaily story about the incident starts off this way: "After major news outlets headlined 'disgruntled' soldiers' tough grilling of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Iraq, a purported e-mail has surfaced from a reporter describing how he set up the soldiers to ask his questions about the lack of armored vehicles in Iraq.

WND's placement of "disgruntled" in quote marks indicates that it apparently believes that the soldier didn't ask the question of his own free will, that he was somehow mindlessly playing along with a "gotcha" question from the nasty "liberal media." But WND offers no evidence to that effect.

But WND has not always been so disapproving of unorthodox means of getting a question to a government official. WND has long promoted a 1999 exchange between President Clinton and Paul Sperry, a reporter who shortly after the incident became WND's Washington bureau chief, at an event where reporters were not to ask questions. An editor's note at the start of the article praised Sperry for "challenging [Clinton] with tough questions about issues of concern to the American people."

"We consider ourselves blessed to be able to attract a journalist of Sperry's stature and achievement," said WND editor and CEO Joseph Farah, upon Sperry's hiring in February 2000. "With this appointment, WorldNetDaily launches a real presence in Washington, the seat of so much official fraud, waste, abuse and corruption."

(Speaking of Sperry: What happened to him? WND's masthead still lists him as Washington bureau chief, but his online archive shows he hasn't had a byline since August. It turns out he's writing another book for WND Books successor Nelson Current, set for release in March 2005, which is being touted as "[a]n alarming exposé of how Muslims are secretly infiltrating American society, government, and culture as we sit idly by and pretend, to a dangerous degree, that Islam is actually compatible with traditional American values." Sperry's first book, "Crude Politics," unlike other WND Books titles, actually conflicted with WND editorial policy, and WND's embrace of it dissipated quickly as the book's promotion window came and went.)

WorldNetDaily isn't the only one casting aspersions on Pitts. The Media Research Center's Brent Bozell complained in his Dec. 15 column that Rumsfeld got "pranked."

"The soldier was actually serving as a ventriloquist dummy for Edward Lee Pitts, a reporter with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, who filed his 'story' without telling his readers about his own role in manipulating this 'gotcha' gag on Rumsfeld," Bozell said. "No one should buy that the Pitts gambit was not a setup, a sleight of microphone, because the soldier embraced the question, or because the grunts applauded."

OK, so Bozell frowns on reporters becoming the story. But what's this on MRC-operated A Dec. 16 story by Marc Morano, who has spent this week in Buenos Aries at a United Nations conference on global warming, writing all about how people won't answer his questions.

Does anyone think Morano, a representative of a conservative news organization, was serving as a passive observer as he attended something that promoted something conservatives like his boss, Bozell, are hostile to? Didn't think so. The MRC's so-called Free Market Project issued a study in November claiming that news coverage of the issue, in the words of a related MRC "Media Reality Check," "reinforced liberal theories about a dangerous man-made global warming, while all but ignoring the dangers of enacting liberals’ solution."

Morano's presence is at least as much of a setup as Bozell claims the Pitts question is; Bozell is spending thousands of dollars in air fare, hotel rooms and other expenses for Morano to do this, undoubtedly hoping something like this would occur.

With this record of reporting stunts on the ConWeb's part, why is it frowning on Pitts? Especially since he may not be as liberal as WND and Bozell clearly believe he is.

The Chattanooga paper that employs Pitt is owned by WEHCO Media, which also owns the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, Ark., which happens to employ as its editorial page editor the decidedly conservative Paul Greenberg, coiner of the moniker "Slick Willie" for Bill Clinton.

So maybe Pitts was simply -- since Rumsfeld apparently wasn't -- looking out for the troops, who had resorted to scrounging in scrapyards in Iraq for homemade "hillbilly armor." And the question got action in the form of increased armor production by manufacturers who said they could do it if only the Pentagon gave them the go-ahead. What, exactly, is the downside?

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