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Rumsfeld Criticizes Media for 'Exaggerated' Reports on Looting - 2003-04-12


Anyone who might have thought Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was not capable of great passion now knows better. The evidence came at an unusually animated news briefing Friday when reporters suggested looting was casting a shadow over the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Instead of focusing on the progress of the war, the hunt for fugitive Iraqi leaders or the effort to uncover chemical weapons, reporters started in with questions on looting and other signs of lawlessness in Baghdad and elsewhere.

It did not take long for Mr. Rumsfeld to react and react sharply, condemning the reporting as exaggerated.

"I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn't believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest," he said. " And it just was Henny Penny - 'The sky is falling.' I've never seen anything like it! And here is a country that's being liberated, here are people who are going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator, and they're free. And all this newspaper could do, with eight or 10 headlines, they showed a man bleeding, a civilian, who they claimed we had shot, one thing after another. It's just unbelievable how people can take that away from what is happening in that country! "

What's more, Mr. Rumsfeld charges some images of looting on television are being played again and again, conveying the wrong impression.

"The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times and you think, 'My goodness, were there that many vases?' Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?" he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld says no one condones looting and he says U.S. and coalition forces are moving to halt it, together with concerned Iraqis.

But the way Mr. Rumsfeld sees it, some lawlessness is understandable among the Iraqi people because, he says, they have been repressed for years. He says the liberation of those pent-up emotions can lead to what he calls an untidy period.

"Freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," secretary Rumsfeld said. "They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here."

The issue of whether there are sufficient coalition troops in Iraq to conduct policing operations was never raised.

But Mr. Rumsfeld says more troops are moving into the Baghdad area and elsewhere. He also says an overnight curfew has been imposed in the Iraqi capital.

Mr. Rumsfeld professed to being fascinated with the reporters' barrage of questions on civil disorder.

But it is not the first time he has been critical of the news media. Earlier this week, he took issue with Arab news reports which he charged were conveying false impressions about the purpose of the U.S. led intervention in Iraq.

In that case, he accused them of carrying messages suggesting the operation was a war against the Iraqi people as opposed to one against a dictator. He says there were also Arab media suggestions it was a war against Islam, which he says was also untrue.

At the time, Mr. Rumsfeld said he hoped those false images would be counterbalanced by upbeat scenes of jubilant Iraqis welcoming coalition troops.

But it seems even those images, in Mr. Rumsfeld's eyes, have been tarnished by the latest ones of looting.