Let's be clear: The reporter has a right to throw Rumsfeld an honest hardball in a press conference. The soldier, too, has the right to ask the question if invited to do so. But this reporter whispered that question into the soldier's ear. Once the soldier asked the question, it was no longer the issue of vehicle armor that was news. It was the controversy, the revolt of the rank and file confronting the commander, that drove the story. Except it was all staged by the press. And then covered up.
Armed with this new evidence exposing the staged news event, CBS chose not to update its viewers about it, while the others downplayed it. On ABC, Peter Jennings relayed it and dismissed it: "It was certainly clear from the other soldiers' reaction to the question, that better protection is a big issue." On NBC, reporter Jim Miklaszewski didn't even want to verify that Pitts fed the question: "Whoever came up with the question, it's put the debate over the safety of American troops front and center."
That's bad spin. The point of the question was not to put troop safety front and center. The point was to shoot at Rumsfeld. As one trend-watcher put it, Rumsfeld may be the Left's new John Ashcroft, the primary Cabinet punching bag.
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. Let's grant it as obvious that the troops are interested in questions and answers about their safety. But take the Pitts stunt and put it somewhere else.
Imagine the October presidential debate in St. Louis where the citizen questioners pressed the candidates. Imagine if the moderator stealthily had encouraged a citizen to ask a real brushback question to John Kerry, and then it came out later, after a dramatic exchange topped the news, that it was the moderator who was responsible. The question and answer might be important, but the news story would be denounced as manipulated media fakery.
By all means, let's unite as Americans behind better equipment for our troops. But let's also agree we need a lot more honesty from some media outlets covering them.