Reuters Uses Trumped-Up 2004 Story to Support Obama Military Equipment Claim

In an attempt to salvage some degree of credibility for presidential candidate Barack Obama's assertions about military equipment shortages, Reuters reporter Andrew Gray went back to a long-discredited claim planted by a local Tennessee reporter, and resurrected a Donald Rumsfeld quote that was not relevant to his story topic.

First, Gray went to what Obama claimed, and how the Pentagon responded:

During the face-to-face encounter on Thursday evening, Obama said he had heard from an Army captain whose unit had served in Afghanistan without enough ammunition or vehicles.

Obama said it was easier for the troops to capture weapons from Taliban militants than it was "to get properly equipped by our current commander in chief," President George W. Bush.

"I find that account pretty hard to imagine," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.

"Despite the stress that we readily acknowledge on the force, one of the things that we do is make sure that all of our units and service members that are going into harm's way are properly trained, equipped and with the leadership to be successful," he said.

Whitman's remarks were unusual as the Pentagon often declines to talk about comments from political campaigns.

Rough translation of the way-too-polite Pentagonese: Baloney claims like this are rarely raised by politicians, but this one was so out there we had to debunk it.

Gray then attempted to portray Obama's claim as part of a longstanding pattern:

Military equipment shortages have been a big U.S. political issue, particularly in the early years of the Iraq war.

A U.S. soldier confronted then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the topic in Kuwait in 2004, complaining that troops were forced to dig up scrap metal to protect their vehicles because the military did not have enough armor.

Rumsfeld famously replied that "you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time" -- a remark that drew widespread criticism.

Gray conveniently "forgot" to inform readers that the soldier who "confronted" Rumsfeld was a National Guardsman coached by Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Edward Lee Pitts, who later bragged about what he did in an e-mail.

The truth, of course, is more complicated than Gray's last few paragraphs would lead you to believe, and casts the military's attention to readiness in a more favorable light, as this December 2004 post at 2Slick's Forum indicates (bold is mine; italics is 2Slick's):

The only thing unusual about this particular "town hall meeting" was the fact that the press was invited. My coworkers and I wondered aloud about the wisdom of this decision, and I still can't really see the logic there. The only thing I can think of is that the SECDEF intended to show that he has nothing to hide- sort of like a "full public disclosure" kind of thing. The problem with this is obvious. When the cameras are rolling and a soldier stands up and asks why the military isn't doing anything to properly equip him for war, guess what happens? That's right- the media machine immediately establishes a new "truth"- in this case it's that the military is not equipping the force. Absolutely no effort is made to fact-check the soldier- his word is taken as pure gospel.

..... What SPC Wilson might not be aware of (at his level)- is that all vehicles that drive north into Iraq are required to have "level 3" armor protection. If a vehicle does not meet this standard, it will not be driven up north- it will be carried on a flatbed truck. Once in Iraq, armored vehicles are used for driving off post, and unarmored vehicles are used for driving around on post. This policy is put out to each unit's commanders well before the unit even arrives to Kuwait.

2Slick also mentioned that there was a significant ramp-up in production of needed vehicles in progress at the time. It turns out that additional vehicles were not produced as quickly as desired during the next few years. But the idea that soldiers weren't, and aren't, being provided the best of what was, and is, available is absurd -- as is Grey's reference back to the December 2004 incident, and Rumsfeld's "famous reply," as some kind of evidence that Obama had a valid point earlier this week.

The Pentagon has as much as said that Obama doesn't know what he's talking about, and what Gray dredged up from 2004 doesn't change that.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.