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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.
The e-mail, posted by the Drudge Report and Jim Romanesko’s weblog at PoynterOnline, apparently was written by Chattanooga Times Free Press military reporter Edward Lee Pitts, who is embedded with the 278th Regimental Combat Team, preparing to enter Iraq from Kuwait.
Addressed to a member of the newspaper staff, the message says, “I was told yesterday that only soldiers could ask questions so I brought two of them along with me as my escorts.”
Pitts expressed pleasure that “one of my guys was the second person called on,” Specialist Thomas Wilson, who “asked Rumsfeld why after two years here soldiers are still having to dig through trash bins to find rusted scrap metal and cracked ballistic windows for their Humvees … .”
Wilson’s photograph appears on the front page of today’s New York Times.
Pitts said his previous stories on the lack of amored vehicles in Iraq had drawn little attention, and “it felt good to hand it off to the national press.”
The Chattanooga newspaper’s publisher and executive editor, Tom Griscom, commended Pitts, according to the Associated Press, saying members of the unit and their families wanted the question answered.
The e-mail, as posted by Romanesko, reads:
From: Pitts, Lee
Sent: Wednesday, December 8, 2004 4:44 PM
To: [Chattanooga Times Free Press staffers]
Subject: RE: Way to go
I just had one of my best days as a journalist today. As luck would have it, our journey North was delayed just long enough see I could attend a visit today here by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. I was told yesterday that only soldiers could ask questions so I brought two of them along with me as my escorts. Before hand we worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have. While waiting for the VIP, I went and found the Sgt. in charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.
So during the Q&A session, one of my guys was the second person called on. When he asked Rumsfeld why after two years here soldiers are still having to dig through trash bins to find rusted scrap metal and cracked ballistic windows for their Humvees, the place erupted in cheers so loud that Rumsfeld had to ask the guy to repeat his question. Then Rumsfeld answered something about it being “not a lack of desire or money but a logistics/physics problem.” He said he recently saw about 8 of the special up-armored Humvees guarding Washington, DC, and he promised that they would no longer be used for that and that he would send them over here. Then he asked a three star general standing behind him, the commander of all ground forces here, to also answer the question. The general said it was a problem he is working on.
The great part was that after the event was over the throng of national media following Rumsfeld- The New York Times, AP, all the major networks — swarmed to the two soldiers I brought from the unit I am embedded with. Out of the 1,000 or so troops at the event there were only a handful of guys from my unit b/c the rest were too busy prepping for our trip north. The national media asked if they were the guys with the armor problem and then stuck cameras in their faces. The NY Times reporter asked me to email him the stories I had already done on it, but I said he could search for them himself on the Internet and he better not steal any of my lines. I have been trying to get this story out for weeks- as soon as I foud out I would be on an unarmored truck- and my paper published two stories on it. But it felt good to hand it off to the national press. I believe lives are at stake with so many soldiers going across the border riding with scrap metal as protection. It may be to late for the unit I am with, but hopefully not for those who come after.
The press officer in charge of my regiment, the 278th, came up to me afterwords and asked if my story would be positive. I replied that I would write the truth. Then I pointed at the horde of national media pointing cameras and mics at the 278th guys and said he had bigger problems on his hands than the Chattanooga Times Free Press. This is what this job is all about – people need to know. The solider who asked the question said he felt good b/c he took his complaints to the top. When he got back to his unit most of the guys patted him on the back but a few of the officers were upset b/c they thought it would make them look bad. From what I understand this is all over the news back home.