Thursday, December 09, 2004

Reporter behind Rumsfeld grilling
Reporter behind Rumsfeld grilling
Keith Olbermann

NEW YORK - An embedded reporter from the Chattanooga Times Free Press is claiming credit for the blunt questioning yesterday of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by American soldiers in Kuwait.

In an e-mail to an unidentified colleague at the newspaper, Edward Lee Pitts — traveling with a Tennessee National Guard Unit — said that when a scheduling delay permitted him to attend Rumsfeld’s visit with 2,300 troops, he learned that only soldiers could quiz the Secretary. “So,” Pitts writes, “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.”

A copy of Pitts’ e-mail to his Chattanooga colleague is posted on Jim Romenesko’s media blog at the Poynter Institute website. Pitts has a copyrighted piece on the Rumsfeld grilling, headlined “Dispatch Kuwait: ‘Hillbilly armor’ for 278th,” in today’s edition of the Times Free Press.

His e-mail goes on to claim that he even helped ensure that two of the members of the 278th Regimental Combat team got to ask what can only be described as their and his questions. “While waiting for the VIP (Rumsfeld),” Pitts writes, “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.

“One of my guys,” Pitts writes, “was the second person called on.” That would’ve been Army Specialist Thomas Wilson, whose question provoked first several seconds of silence, and then thunderous applause and cheering from the troops. Wilson asked: “We've had troops in Iraq for coming up on for three years and we've all been staged here out of Kuwait. Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local land fills 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?"

Wilson appeared to be reading his question from a small piece of paper in his hand.

Pitts did not identify the second questioner he claims to have prompted, although additional pointed queries of Rumsfeld focused on the military’s controversial “Stop-Loss” policy, and the purported disparity between the quality of equipment assigned to active-duty units, and guard and reserve units. It is noteworthy that Pitts claimed only two of the three most searing questions were, in essence, his plants — the third presumably arose organically.

In the e-mail Pitts insisted this wasn’t merely a clever journalistic strategy. “I have been trying to get this story out for weeks — as soon as I found 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 (to Iraq) riding with scrap metal as protection. It may be to (sic) late for the unit I am with, but hopefully not for those who come after.”

If Pitts’ account is correct, he certainly got the attention for the story that he sought. Yesterday, the Pentagon had to applaud the soldiers who questioned Rumsfeld. This morning, the President echoed that endorsement. And the Defense Department had scheduled an early afternoon briefing on the subject of armoring U.S. troop vehicles in Iraq.

Pitts had opened his e-mail to his colleague with a cogent observation: “I just had one of my best days as a journalist today.”

originally published December 9, 2004