- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is still a media darling, captivating the press with straight talk, reason and some canny American know-how.
"He tells the press what he can without jeopardizing the lives of troops. Rumsfeld is a straight shooter, he doesn't spin, he's honest," said Peter Brooks, a military analyst with the Heritage Foundation.
"The press has come to appreciate that. It's admirable how he walks that fine line," Mr. Brooks said.
"For starters, Torie Clarke has done a great job making him available to the media at many of the right times and no one can dispute his inherent newsworthiness," said MSNBC President Erik Sorenson yesterday. "But our viewers tell me that beyond all else, the secretary is a clear speaker and a strong storyteller, which audiences of all stripes find thoroughly engaging, whether they agree with what he's saying or not."
Mr. Rumsfeld is also a wiley presence in the media milieu, and an alpha male.
"He enjoys talking to the press, he enjoys the give and take, and he appears to be saying just what he's thinking. But he wants reporters to be prepared, to have their facts straight." notes Jamie McIntyre, CNN's Pentagon correspondent.
Otherwise, Mr. Rumsfeld is not likely to answer that question. "He will turn around and question the premise of it, which can put reporters off balance," Mr. McIntyre said.
Few want to be off balance during major press briefings that are broadcast live. Viewers sometimes judge reporters by their interviewing style rather their stories, he said.
Michael Wolff of New York magazine made this discovery after asking Army spokesman Gen. Vincent Brooks, "Why are we here? Why should we stay? What's the value of what we're learning at this million-dollar press center?" during a recent televised CentCom press conference.
He received 3,000 angry e-mails from viewers, and wrote about the experience April 21.
Mr. Rumsfeld simply does not engage with unruly reporters, instead disarming them with old-school gravitas, cool disapproval or humor.
"He gets his message out and he's energetic. He doesn't take much personally. He's a little like a professor sometimes, too," CNN's Mr. McIntyre said. "He lectures the press sometimes. He reminds them about history, and about what's happened before."
Indeed, Mr. Rumsfeld has added immediate, visceral context to pivotal moments of the Iraq war.
"Think of the scenes we've all witnessed," he told U.S. troops during a visit to coalition headquarters in Qatar on Monday. "They will certainly take their place alongside the Berlin Wall, the liberation of Paris. … What all of you have accomplished will go down in history books."
Yet Mr. Rumsfeld has not allowed folksy interludes interfere with his mission, which is to stay on message and ahead of message. He is deft at anticipating negative press salvos and he is succinct, last week attacking a New York Times story that said the Pentagon wanted long-term access to military bases in Iraq.
This has left Mr. Rumsfeld, for the most part, with a positive press legacy. Even his most liberal foes will agree that few officials are nimble enough to turn coverage topsy turvy with a phrase like "old Europe," which he used to describe France and Germany.
All of this has played well with the public.
Last year, the Wall Street Journal declared Mr. Rumsfeld's press briefings "the best new show on television," CNN called him a "virtual rock star" and People magazine included him in their "Sexiest Men" issue last December.
Mr. Rumsfeld retains high approval ratings in polls taken within the last two weeks: 75 percent (Quinnipiac Collge), 63 percent (CNN/Gallup), 67 percent (Fox News), 71 percent (Harris), 66 percent (Pew Research).
Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.


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