Defending Defense

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 15 2006 6:19 AM

Defending Defense

President Bush's public support of Donald Rumsfeld leads at the New York Times and Washington Post, runs above the fold at the Los Angeles Times, and tops the Wall Street Journal's world-wide news box. Bush interrupted a weekend vacation at Camp David to say that the defense secretary's "energetic and steady leadership is exactly what we need at this critical period." He implied that Rumsfeld's military critics were angry about civilian efforts to modernize the armed forces. The LAT leads with a television-industry lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission. The four major networks and 800 of their affiliates are calling recent obscenity fines arbitrary and unconstitutional.

Bush's statement yesterday amplifies one made on Thursday by his press secretary. Both responded to calls for Rumsfeld's resignation from several former Iraq war generals. Rumsfeld himself appeared on Al Arabiya TV, stating that "out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round." Gen. Tommy Franks and a retired Joint Chiefs general supported Rumsfeld on cable news shows. Quoting "current and former senior officers," the LAT reports that "many active-duty generals privately agree with public criticism that Rumsfeld is disrespectful to military leaders."

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The Post portrays Bush's statement as an attempt by the White House to defend a central pillar of his presidency; history will judge both Rumsfeld and Bush by the success or failure of Afghanistan and Iraq, the thinking goes, so if Bush cuts Rummy loose he effectively cuts himself loose. 

The TV industry's lawsuit against the FCC comes on the heels of March rulings that judged several network broadcasts—including episodes of NYPD Blue and CBS's The Early Show—to be indecent. The LAT notes that in 2004 dozens of affiliates decided not to participate in ABC's broadcast of Saving Private Ryan because it contained two obscenities. A TV producer tells the paper that without such a lawsuit, the country is "one step away from the FCC telling NBC's Brian Williams that he can't do a story about teen sex because it's indecent." The FCC held its ground, noting that "over 20 years ago, the Supreme Court upheld the FCC's ruling that George Carlin's monologue about the 'Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say on Television and Radio' was indecent." The NYT stuffs this story in its "Business Digest."

Remember those intelligence-laden military flash drives being sold at Afghan markets? The military is buying them back. That's according to a NYT follow-up to the LAT's recent scoop. An unidentified U.S. soldier—flanked by six bodyguards—went from table to table at a bazaar in Bagram yesterday, buying up all the flash drives he could find (a few hundred). The military considered raiding the market, the NYT reports, but concluded that the solvent of currency would make a better tool than the force of arms. The reporter notes the array of U.S. military goods on sale at the bazaar—compasses, fatigues, laptops—most of it probably stolen from a nearby base. Apparently arriving later, a Post reporter confirms the buy-back story with shop owners and files a brief report for Page A11.

Iraqi authorities seized $28 million of crude oil that was to be illegally smuggled to Syria, the Post reports inside. The ongoing resale operation is suspected of having funding insurgents. Two U.S. Marines were killed, and 22 wounded, in a battle in the western province of Anbar. The Post also reports that 41 Taliban were killed by Afghan police and six were killed by a U.S. airstrike, in separate operations.

The NYT gives above-the-fold treatment to another installment in its series on executive pay, this time focusing on Lee Raymond, the former CEO of Exxon. Exxon paid Raymond $686 million—nearly $150,000 a day—during his tenure as chief, from 1993 to 2005. That's an obscene amount of money, of course, but it's unlikely to shock anyone who follows business news. The Times tries to freshen up this perennial by floating the notion that Raymond didn't really "earn" his pay; he just happened to be CEO when oil prices skyrocketed. True enough. But does the play given to this story have anything to do with the fact that Raymond headed an oil company—and one that, unlike its rivals, doesn't even give lip service to environmental concerns? Here's a clue: In the 17th paragraph, the paper notes that the record for executive compensation in one year goes to … Steve Jobs. When's the last time anyone complained about him being overpaid?

While we're on the subject of personal incomes, the White House released the tax returns filed by the president and vice president. The Bushes reported $735,180 in income, $187,768 of which went to the IRS and $75,560 of which went to charity. The Cheneys reported $8.82 million in income. Only $529,636 went to the IRS, but that's because they gave $6.87 million to three charities—the University of Wyoming, a clinic at George Washington University (where Cheney gets treatment), and a group working with poor students in Washington, D.C.

Back to the executive-compensation story. A lovely nugget in this piece is the mention of Lee Raymond's pension plan. Because, you know, a man can't be expected to make half a billion dollars in compensation last throughout retirement. TP would bet that Raymond gets medical insurance, too. But inquiring minds want to know: Does he get reimbursed for mileage and parking?

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