The Defense Department has called on the Associated Press to correct a report that it says mischaracterized a speech by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday. But the AP is standing by the story and many other news organizations ran similar accounts of the speech.
Secretary Rumsfeld's speech to a veterans group drew parallels between the current conflict with terrorists and the period between World Wars I and II.
"It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among western democracies, when those who warned about a coming crisis, the rise of fascism and Nazism, they were ridiculed or ignored," said Donald Rumsfeld.
The secretary said today America faces a new type of fascism that, just as in the 1930s, can not be accommodated or appeased.
"This enemy is serious, lethal and relentless," he said. "But this is still not well recognized or fully understood. It seems that in some quarters, there is more of a focus on dividing our country than acting with unity against the gathering threats."
Rumsfeld asked a series of rhetorical questions, including this one.
"With the growing lethality and increasing availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased," asked Secretary Rumsfeld.
Secretary Rumsfeld specifically criticized the human rights group Amnesty International, as well as media coverage of the war in Iraq, saying it is focused too much on bad news. He said that could damage public support for what he sees as the broader struggle against violent extremism.
"That is important in any long struggle or long war, where any kind of moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere," he said.
In his report on the speech, Associated Press reporter Robert Burns, the senior newswire service reporter covering the Pentagon, said Secretary Rumsfeld had "accused critics of the Bush administration's Iraq and counter-terrorism policies of trying to appease" terrorists. A later version of the story noted that Rumsfeld had not specifically mentioned critics of the administration, but quoted the secretary as saying "many" have not learned history's lessons.
The Pentagon issued a statement saying the story "seriously mischaracterized" the secretary's remarks, and calling on the Associated Press to correct the story. On Wednesday, Pentagon Press Secretary Eric Ruff explained just what he thinks was wrong with the report.
"The mischaracterization comes from the reporting that said the secretary was accusing critics of the Bush administration of supporting appeasement or being appeasers," said Eric Ruff. "I'm paraphrasing. And that is not what was said by the secretary."
In response to an email inquiry, spokeswoman Linda Wagner said only that the Associated Press is standing by its story. She provided no other response to the Pentagon criticism and declined a request for an interview.
Other major news organizations also interpreted Secretary Rumsfeld's words as referring to administration critics, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today and CNN.
Democratic Party politicians responded angrily to the secretary's remarks, with some again calling for his resignation.
Secretary Rumsfeld has frequently spoken about what he sees as the high stakes of the war on terrorism, and the central role that the fighting in Iraq has in that broader conflict. President Bush is planning a series of speeches with a similar theme, starting Thursday.