Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: The Untold Story

[Editor's Note: Here is the column originally posted on Spero News alluded to here yesterday.]

When retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez gave a speech at the annual convention of the Military Reporters and Editors Association critical of the US efforts in Iraq and the Bush administration, the media was all over it, loudly trumpeting the general’s remarks. That’s okay, because when someone like Sanchez, who was the former top commander in Iraq, speaks about his experience—whether what he says is good or bad—we ought to pay attention.

According to The New York Times, “Sanchez, who retired in 2006 after being replaced in Iraq after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, blamed the Bush administration for a ‘catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan’ and denounced the current addition of American forces as a ‘desperate’ move that would not achieve long-term stability.”

“After more than four years of fighting, America continues its desperate struggle in Iraq without any concerted effort to devise a strategy that will achieve victory in that war-torn country or in the greater conflict against extremism,” the most senior war commander of a string of retired officers who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s conduct of the war said.

Sanchez’ comments are a searing indictment of the Iraq war. However, two things need to be said. First, Sanchez is himself not above criticism, as The Times suggested, to the extent that the Abu Ghraib issue deserves our concern, since he was in charge at the time. And second, many people believe that things in Iraq are far better than we are being told, as The Washington Post surprisingly reported recently.

Which brings us to the topic of this column: The media’s continuing dismal performance of its solemn duty to provide the American people with accurate, complete and unbiased information. That was part of the general’s speech, too, but you probably didn’t read about in The Times or The Post, and you didn’t see it on CNN, NBC, etc.

Here are some excerpts from what Gen. Sanchez had to say about the media that hasn’t been reported:

The speculative and often uninformed initial reporting that characterizes our media appears to be rapidly becoming the standard of the industry. …

In my business one of our fundamental truths is that “the first report is always wrong.” Unfortunately, in your business “the first report” gives Americans who rely on the snippets of CNN, if you will, their “truths” and perspectives on an issue. As a corollary to this deadline driven need to publish “initial impressions or observations” versus objective facts there is an additional challenge for us who are the subject of your reporting. When you assume that you are correct and on the moral high ground on a story because we have not responded to questions you provided is the ultimate arrogance and distortion of ethics. …

My assessment is that your profession, to some extent, has strayed from [its] ethical standards and allowed external agendas to manipulate what the American public sees on TV, what they read in our newspapers and what they see on the Web. For some of you, just like some of our politicians, the truth is of little to no value if it does not fit your own preconceived notions, biases and agendas.

General Sanchez’s comments about media malfeasance are just a scathing as his comments about the war, but far less widely reported.

Ironically, in reporting Sanchez’ comments on Iraq and omitting his comments on the media, the media have confirmed precisely the charges he leveled against them for abandoning their ethical standards.

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