- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

HUE, Vietnam — Tony, congratulations on your new assignment. Your distinguished career in print, radio and television journalism makes you perfectly suited for the job as the new White House press secretary — and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The president and his policies are under attack from the left and its allies in the so-called mainstream media. So significant is your appointment that it made news even in this far corner of the world.

I’ve always admired those who stand in the line of fire to defend our country, and your willingness to face a hostile press corps daily is a testament to your courage and dedication to the president whom you now serve. You know the White House terrain, you’ve “been there, done that,” as they say. What’s more, you certainly understand the disdain with which the national press corps treats this president. It won’t be easy, but you have the skill, poise and courage of conviction to get it done.

While you were surveying the battlefield that is the White House briefing room with the president, I returned to the old battlefield of Vietnam, on the 31st anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

We’re shooting a documentary for “War Stories” on the Fox News Channel (I think you are familiar with that network) about a battle that took place on Ap Bia Mountain near the Laotian border. It came to be known as Hamburger Hill. Our group started out in Hue — the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam, which was the visible centerpiece of the 1968 Tet Offensive. It was here that former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite decided the U.S. could not win the war.

I mention all this because where you are going — the White House briefing room — is home to many of the armchair admirals of the major media who have decided that the war in Iraq cannot be won. They came to this conclusion after three years of opposition to the war.

They are wrong, of course — it can and must be won. You were right to say, in your first words from the White House podium, that “We’ve got a lot of big issues ahead, and we’ve got a lot of important things that all of us are going to be covering together.”

The big issue, of course, is the Global War on Terror. I am pleased you are already working to focus the media’s attention where it should be. It is essential that the American public understand the threat that our country faces from radical Islamic jihadists, and what it will take in time and resources to win this war. Nothing President Bush does in the remainder of his term is as important as winning this war. The voice of authority that you bring to the job, Tony, will help keep an ADD-inflicted press corps on message. Don’t let them get distracted by jawboning generals and grandstanding members of Congress.

Coming from the news business, you understand the media has a “drive-thru” mentality when it comes to the news — they want to know everything and they want to know it now. The same holds true for the war. The media and an increasingly vocal antiwar crowd want to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq regardless of the consequences.

I’m confident the president believes that victory in this war is vital, and I’m sure you do too. But the conviction with which that message has been delivered lately has been lacking. It is part of a string of communications gaffes that have emanated from the White House.

From the Dubai port deal to the treatment of terrorist detainees, the president’s opposition has inflamed the media, framed the issue, and taken the lead.

Too often lately, the White House has allowed its critics to set the agenda and the terms of debate. The media love the idea of having the daily briefing on television. They will argue with you and try to play “gotcha” all in an effort to get ratings and air time. They receive and publish classified information. They feign interest in the American people, but get upset when a local paper gets the scoop.

Tony, you know as well as anyone that free and independent media are vital to American liberty. But you also know, and must explain to the press, that using the power of the presidency to prosecute a global war against terrorism is not a violation of the constitution just because they deem it so. It is time to reclaim the podium and put the press in its proper place.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

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