Stories about Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld’s testimony to the Senate wondered whether he would stay or resign. The Big Media ignored the antics of Senator Mark Dayton of Minnesota. It was left to New York Times columnist William Safire to note that Dayton “rudely badgered” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Richard Myers, claiming repeatedly that Myers tried to “suppress” a CBS broadcast showing the photos of prisoner abuse. Dayton was so obnoxious that committee chairman Senator John Warner had to ask him to quit talking so Myers could respond.
Safire pointed out that, “General Myers had been trying to save the lives of troops by persuading CBS to delay its broadcast of pictures that would inflame resistance. Rumsfeld quieted the sound-bite-hungry politician by reminding him that requests to delay life-threatening reports were part of long military-media tradition.”
Safire hit the nail on the head with his remark about the “sound-bite-hungry politician.” What better way to curry favor with the press than to put yourself forward as a first amendment champion? But if the media had reported the entire exchange, people would have seen that Myers and Rumsfeld had a valid point. The exchanges went like this:
Dayton: Mr. Secretary?did you authorize General Myers to call CBS to suppress their news report?
Rumsfeld: I don’t have any idea if he discussed it with me. I don’t think he did. “Suppress” is not the right word at all?It’s an inaccurate word.
Dayton: General Myers, did you discuss it with the secretary?
Myers: I called CBS to ask them to delay the pictures showing on CBS’s “60 Minutes” because I thought it would result in direct harm…
Dayton: Mr. Secretary, is that standard procedure for the military command of this country to try to suppress a news report at the highest level?
Myers: ?This was not to suppress anything. What I asked CBS News to do was to delay the release of the pictures, given the current situation in Iraq, which was as bad as it had been since major combat ended, because I thought it would bring direct harm to our troops; it would kill our troops?
Dayton responded that, “I agree with your assessment of the consequences of this on our troops, and that’s the great tragedy of this, but attempts to suppress news reports, to withhold the truth from Congress and from the American people is antithetical to democracy.” Myers replied, “You bet it is. And that’s not what we were doing.”
Rumsfeld added, “Throughout the history of this country, there have been instances where military situations have existed that have led government to talk to members of the media and make an editorial request of them that they delay for some period disclosing some piece of information. It is not against our history. It is not against our principles. It is not suppression of the news. And it’s a misunderstanding of the situation to say it is.”
So Dayton understood that the premature release of the photos would result in harm to our troops but he wanted them released anyway. If this exchange had received more attention from the press, there might be calls for Dayton?rather than Rumsfeld?to resign.