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Fox News Shows Embarrassingly Bad Rumsfeld Press Conference

Reported by Judy - October 27, 2006 -

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued with reporters, questioned their motives, and quibbled about the wording of their questions during a press conference on Iraq. In fact, he did everything but answer their questions. Fox News was more than happy to carry the whole thing live for the Bush administration.

The start of the "Live Desk" on Thursday (October 26, 2006) had teased the press conference with the words, "Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on what to do about Iraq, Iran and North Korea.” Instead of talking about what to do about any of those three, Rumsfeld was more interested in playing word games with reporters.

Rumsfeld insisted that the military is making adjustments to its procedures to deal with the civil war in Iraq. "Any idea that U.S. military leaders are rigidly refusing to make adjustments in their approaches is just flat wrong," Rumsfeld said, ignoring the fact that most criticism about "staying the course" has been directed at Bush's strategy, not generals' tactics.

Rumsfeld struck an argumentative tone, accusing reporters of trying to create "daylight" between Bush and Iraqi leaders for having asked about Iraqi Prime Minister's Maliki's remarks about "benchmarks" and "time lines" not being imposed on Iraq and about the consequences of failure to meet benchmarks..

Rumsfeld launched into a long digression about not wanting to set benchmarks because some of them might have to be re-set.

“You’re looking for some sort of a guillotine to come flowing down if some date isn’t met," Rumsfeld claimed. "That is not what this is about. This is complicated stuff. It’s difficult. We’re looking out into the future, No one can predict the future with absolute certainty. So you ought to just back off, take a look at it, understand that it’s complicated, it’s difficult. Honorable people are working on these things together. There isn’t any daylight between them. They’ll be discussing this and discussing that. They may have a change here, a change there, but it’ll get worked out. But the value of it is that you are in effect establishing priorities.”

In order words, "trust us." Trust the Bush administration, the "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie" administration? The can't-walk-and-chew-gum-at-the-same-time administration?

Later, Rumsfeld accused reporters of wanting benchmarks because, "And then of course you can point with alarm and say oh, my goodness, you didn’t make it, and you can have a front page article and everyone will have a good time and we’ll say, that’s right, you didn’t make it, and then the ones that we make earlier than we thought, we’ll never see it on the front page.”

Even when Mike Emanuel from Fox News tried to ask a question about Maliki's statements on Friday that the U.S. is responsible for the poor security situation in Iraq, Rumsfeld was testy, saying he had not heard the remarks and that Emanuel probably had not heard them either or had not understood the translation so he did not want to respond.

When another reporter asked whether he was concerned about "mission creep" when U.S. troops are asked to intervene between Iraqi groups fighting, Rumsfeld tersely said his position was the same as the president's and told her to get a transcript of Bush's remarks. She replied that she was asking because she thought he would want to expand on what the president said or add his own comments, Rumsfeld said, "You are, huh?”

For all of Rumsfeld's experience in the business world (Fox News noted with graphics that he has been CEO of two Fortune 500 companies), he does not seem to have absorbed much of the business world's way of doing things. CEO's who whine about having to meet goals or benchmarks generally get fired. And complaining that it's impossible to tell what is going to happen in the future generally won't get a CEO very far with his board of directors, either. Yet when it comes to something as important as the lives of American troops, Rumsfeld thinks he ought to be able to get away without ever being held accountable for failure. He does not grasp the concept of reporters acting as representatives for the public, the board of directors of the operation he's running.

From Rumsfeld's childish behavior, the "Live Desk" went to the "A-List" discussion.

Ann Coulter, possible felon but not appearing stoned for once, dismissed as "pointless prattle" calls for any sort of way to measure progress or set goals in Iraq.

MacCallum then went to a Fox News Opinion Dynamics Poll, which found 32 percent of those Americans asked hold Bush responsible for the situation in Iraq; 18 percent hold Rumsfeld responsible; 11 percent hold American generals responsible, and 26 percent hold some combination of all three responsible.

Democratic strategist Michael Brown said the numbers reflect that Americans have figured out who's to blame -- Bush and Rumsfeld.

"The numbers, I think, reflect exactly what’s going on with that press conference and if I were a Republican running for office I would never want that press conference ever shown ever again," he said.

"It’s precisely why Republicans are having problems articulating their message on the strategy. There is no strategy. Secretary Rumsfeld scheduled this press conference and had no answers for basic questions that were coming up. … They do not have a strategy.”

MacCallum countered that it may be "unrealistic" to expect a strategy. "Is there a better way than everybody basically sticking it out until it gets better?" she asked.

Brown said it would be better for the Bush administration to admit there have been mistakes and to bring more people to the table to discuss options, including Democrats.

MacCallum then switched the discussion away from Rumsfeld to demoracy in the Middle East. Erick Stakelbeck, billed as a terror analyst and correspondent for CBC, suggested that while
“Democracy in the Middle East is a very noble pursuit ... democracy in Iraq, I don’t think it’s going to work.”

Coulter wrapped up the discussion by complaining again that the U.S. does not need a plan for Iraq and that all plans are pointless once the military engages the enemy anyway.

Not having a plan might be acceptable if the U.S. were getting results without having one. But since it's not getting results, maybe it's time to consider one.