It seems that half of the message retired General Richard Sanchez intended to deliver missed the cut at most newsrooms, and with most bloggers. Typical among the reports of his blistering oration is the front-page treatment given by the Washington Post's Josh White, the entire first half of Snachez' speech -- found in its entirety here -- gets reduced to a single paragraph at the end of the story. Why? Well, it turns out that Sanchez considered his first target the media itself, which he blames for a large part of the problems he sees in Iraq (via Power Line, reformatted by me to normal case):
Almost invariably, my perception is that the sensationalistic value of these assessments is what provided the edge that you seek for self agrandizement [sic] or to advance your individual quest for getting on the front page with your stories! As I understand it, your measure of worth is how many front page stories you have written and unfortunately some of you will compromise your integrity and display questionable ethics as you seek to keep America informed. This is much like the intelligence analysts whose effectiveness was measured by the number of intelligence reports he produced. For some, it seems that as long as you get a front page story there is little or no regard for the "collateral damage" you will cause. Personal reputations have no value and you report with total impunity and are rarely held accountable for unethical conduct.
Given the near instantaneous ability to report actions on the ground, the responsibility to accurately and truthfully report takes on an unprecedented importance. The speculative and often uninformed initial reporting that characterizes our media appears to be rapidly becoming the standard of the industry. An Arab proverb states - "four things come not back: the spoken word, the spent arrow, the past, the neglected opportunity." Once reported, your assessments become conventional wisdom and nearly impossible to change. Other major challenges are your willingness to be manipulated by "high level officials" who leak stories and by lawyers who use hyperbole to strengthen their arguments. Your unwillingness to accurately and prominently correct your mistakes and your agenda driven biases contribute to this corrosive environment.
All of these challenges combined create a media environment that does a tremendous disservice to America. Over the course of this war tactically insignificant events have become strategic defeats for America because of the tremendous power and impact of the media and by extension you the journalist. In many cases the media has unjustly destroyed the individual reputations and careers of those involved. We realize that because of the near real time reporting environment that you face it is difficult to report accurately. 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 respond to questions you provided is the ultimate arrogance and distortion of ethics. One of your highly repected fellow journalists once told me that there are some amongst you who "feed from a pig's trough." if that is who I am dealing with then I will never respond otherwise we will both get dirty and the pig will love it. This does not mean that your story is accurate.
Given that, it seems highly ironic that the journalists covering the story attempted to cover up the acidic, biting, and mostly accurate criticisms of their own performance in this war while giving front-page treatment to Sanchez' criticisms of the political structure at the same time. If Sanchez has such credibility and standing to bring this kind of criticism to bear on Washington, why didn't the Post and other news agencies give the same level of exposure to his media criticisms as well? He basically accuses them of cynically selling out the soldiers to defeat American efforts to win the war, and made sure that those accusations came first before his assessment of the political failures, but you'd never know that from the Post.
The Post then goes on to obfuscate a key part of the second half of Sanchez' speech. While he criticizes the Bush administration in sharp terms, Sanchez blames the Democrats in equal measure. He calls out partisans on all sides for exploiting the war for their own political benefit rather than the good of the nation, and blames the lack of range for strategic options on the corrosive debate that has hamstrung the range of choices.
And most importantly, none of the press has managed to pick up on this key sequence in Sanchez' broadside at the American political establishment:
America has no choice but to continue our efforts in Iraq. A precipitous withdrawal will unquestionably lead to chaos that would endanger the stability of the greater Middle East. If this occurs it would have significant adverse effects on the international community. Coalition and American force presence will be required at some level for the foreseeable future. Given the lack of a grand strategy we must move rapidly to minimize that force presence and allow the Iraqis maximum ability to exercise their soveriegnty in achieving a solution.
Iraq is still a vital national interest to the United States. We have a responsibility to get it right, and our political establishment needs to unite to find the grand strategy that serves that purpose rather than their own selfish desires. In fact, Sanchez made clear that the media has to do the same as well. Unfortunately, the media doesn't have the guts to report that honestly.
UPDATE: Don't miss Bruce Kesler's post on this speech.
UPDATE II: I love the spin this post is getting in the blogosphere. Yes, obviously Sanchez ripped the Bush administration -- the media had no trouble reporting that part of the speech. He also ripped the Democrats for playing partisan games and making it impossible to generate the kind of strategy needed to win in Iraq. The media didn't bother to report much of that, and it didn't report his primary focus in the speech on the media themselves for reporting the war dishonestly from the beginning. That's what I was noting in this post -- what the media left out. I also did something the media didn't do, which was to link to the entire speech.