The Chip on Sanchez’s Shoulder

General takes offense at being called "somewhat dense"

Even though I’m a bit late to this, it’s worth following up on my post from Monday about the coverage of Ricardo Sanchez’s speech. Since then, the text of his remarks have become public and after reading them, I can’t help but comment on what they tell us. In short, they offer a sad lesson in what skewed perceptions about the media people in high places can have. Here’s a top-ranking military leader repeating all the paranoid fantasies of the extreme right about biased and politically motivated reporting who at one point even refers to journalists as pigs in a trough.

There are too many quotable passages (it really must be read to be believed), but here’s just one example:

The death knell of your ethics has been enabled by your parent organizations that have chosen to align themselves with political agendas. What is clear to me is that you are perpetuating the corrosive partisan politics that is destroying our country and killing our service members who are at war…. My assessment is that your profession, to some extent, has strayed from these ethical standards and allowed external agendas to manipulate what the American public sees on TV, what they read in our newspapers and what they see on the web. For some of you, just like some of our politicians, the truth is of little to no value if it does not fit your own preconceived notions, biases and agendas.

Sanchez leaves little mystery as to why he is this ticked off about the press. The called him names. Yes. A three-star general who I wish would have remembered that nursery school chant about sticks and stones, spends the first few paragraphs of his speech listing the unjust phrases that have been used to describe him, such as “does not get it,” “the most inexperienced LTG,” “not a strategic thought,” and (my personal favorite) “dictatorial and somewhat dense.” And as proof of how damaging these personal attacks can be, Sanchez calls to the witness stand no less than Michael “Brownie” Brown, the disgraced head of FEMA. That’s when you know you’re in trouble.

The other chip on Sanchez’s shoulder has to do with what he perceived as a “single minded focus on Abu Gharaib.” It’s hard to fathom how he deludes himself into thinking that this story didn’t merit the attention it got. Then again, he was fired as a result of the scandal.

Ultimately, what I found so depressing about the speech was the general’s total lack of comprehension of what journalists do. He seems to think that a reporter who would take the risk of coming to Iraq and telling the story of the war some how needs to resort to sensationalistic celebrity-style journalism. “As I understand it,” he said, “your measure of worth is how many front page stories you have written and unfortunately some of you will compromise your integrity and display questionable ethics as you seek to keep America informed.”

I’ve got an idea. Since Sanchez claimed to be so fond of the embedding program - though why he is is hard to fathom given his all-encompassing critique - why not have him or other high-ranking generals embed for a week with a reporter in Iraq, see the challenges they face, experience what it’s like to try and get at “objective truth,” as the general put it. Hopefully all military leaders don’t think like Sanchez about the media, but for those that do, this might offer a needed corrective.

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.