updated 12/10/2004 9:59:30 AM ET 2004-12-10T14:59:30

Readers should have been told promptly that an embedded reporter had helped frame a question that a serviceman asked of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld this week in Kuwait, the reporter’s publisher says.

The question to Rumsfeld from Spc. Thomas “Jerry” Wilson, 31, of Nashville, complaining that many military vehicles in Iraq are not adequately armored, has touched off a storm of new publicity about the issue.

“In hindsight, information on how the question was framed should have been included in Thursday’s story in the Times Free Press. It was not,” the paper’s publisher and executive editor, Tom Griscom, said in a note to readers published Friday.

Military affairs reporter Edward Lee Pitts, who is embedded with the 278th Regimental Combat Team, said he worked with guardsmen after being told reporters would not be allowed to ask Rumsfeld any questions.

Griscom said Pitts “used the tools available to him as a journalist to report on a story that has been and remains important to members of the 278th and those back at home.”

No mention of role
Pitts had sent an e-mail to co-workers back in Tennessee on Wednesday outlining his role.

“I was told yesterday that only soldiers could ask questions so I brought two of them along with me as my escorts,” he wrote. “Before hand we worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have.”

He also said he went to the officer running the question and answer session “and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.”

But the story by Pitts published Thursday about the question to Rumsfeld made no mention of Pitts’ own role.

The question from Wilson appeared to surprise Rumsfeld on Wednesday and prompted cheers among the soldiers listening to him in a hangar.

“Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” Wilson had said.

Rumsfeld said the Army was prodding manufacturers of vehicle armor to produce it quickly, but added, “You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have.”

Manipulative?
In commending Pitts’ work, Griscom, who served as White House communications director under President Reagan, said Pitts “used what was available to him to get an answer to a story that we have covered and that has been important.”

Kelly McBride, a member of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, said she did not fault the reporter for getting help with asking the question, but described the failure to include that information with his story as “dishonest with his readers.”

“I suspect some people would see it as manipulative,” McBride said. “I suspect Rumsfeld felt manipulated.”

Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said Rumsfeld gives reporters ample time to ask questions and that his appearance in Kuwait was for the soldiers.

“Town Hall meetings are intended for soldiers to have dialogue with the secretary of defense,” Di Rita said. “It would be unfortunate to discover that anyone might have interfered with that opportunity, whatever the intention.”

The reporter’s e-mail also indicated Pitts was proud of his role in asking the question: “I just had one of my best days as a journalist today,” he wrote. He said it “felt good” that the question and answer received so much attention from other media.

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