Sat, Dec 11, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Reporter involved in soldier's question to Rumsfeld

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shakes hands with soldiers after leaving Camp Udairi, 120km north of Kuwait City on Wednesday. A day after being challenged by a soldier on the US Army's failure to provide adequate armor for vehicles used in Iraq, Rumsfeld said he was pleased to hear the gripe and expected that efforts would be made to resolve the problem.

PHOTO: AP

The soldier with the Tennessee National Guard who asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a pointed question in Kuwait on Wednesday about the lack of armor on military vehicles was prompted by a reporter for The Chattanooga Times Free Press, according to Tom Griscom, the newspaper's publisher.

The reporter, Edward Lee Pitts, is embedded with the 278th Armored Cavalry of the National Guard. His article on the town hall meeting made no mention of his own role; that came to light Thursday, when an e-mail message he wrote to a colleague at the newspaper boasting of his involvement in the questioning was posted on several Web sites.

His account prompted criticism from the Pentagon and from conservative commentators.

In recent weeks, Pitts wrote several front-page articles for The Times Free Press about how soldiers of the 278th, preparing to head into Iraq from Kuwait, were hunting down scrap metal to make armor for their Humvees and trucks. In his e-mail message he said that he had taken two soldiers with him to the town hall troop meeting and that "we worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles."

He then found the sergeant handling the microphone for the questioning and "made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd," he wrote.

When one of the two, Specialist Thomas Wilson, asked Rumsfeld about the use of "hillbilly armor," other soldiers broke into applause, and Rumsfeld was put on the defensive. The exchange became the focus of news coverage of Rumsfeld's visit.

Lawrence Di Rita, the Pentagon spokesman, released a statement Thursday that did not mention Pitts by name, but was critical of his actions.

"Town Hall meetings are intended for soldiers to have dialogue with the secretary of defense," he wrote. "It would be unfortunate to discover that anyone might have interfered with that opportunity, whatever the intention."

Lieutenant Colonel Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon press officer, said that the incident had violated no rules and that no action would be taken against either Wilson or Pitts.

Rush Limbaugh, however, said on his radio program Thursday that Pitts had engaged in "cheap theatrics" that distorted the coverage.

"For two days we think that this is an act of courage and bravery and, `Oh, wow! Rummy got his,'" Limbaugh said. "We found out the whole thing today is a setup."

Griscom, the publisher, said it was legitimate for Pitts to discuss questions with the soldiers because reporters were not allowed to ask questions at the meeting.

"I know this is what the soldiers are talking about," Griscom said. "People forget that even if Lee talked to this soldier, the soldier made the decision to ask the question."

He said his newspaper had received many e-mail messages from soldiers and their families in response to its articles on the lack of vehicle armor. He added, however, that Pitts' article should have noted his involvement.

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