This Week, Round 3,804 Goes to Time

Time edges out Newsweek on Donald Rumsfeld’s future, a movie star's mullet and a mob boss's capture.

Whither Donald Rumsfeld? With a half-dozen retired military generals having gone public with scathing criticisms of the secretary of defense, the man at the center of the conflict (and his future job prospects) are very much on the minds of Time and Newsweek, both of which give the story cover billing.

Time’s piece, “The Revolt of the Generals,” is slightly the better of the two. The magazine mentions previous “rare but not unprecedented” open revolts by top military brass against their civilian bosses, then crucially notes that “what distinguishes the latest rebellion is that the retired generals are taking on their old boss not over policy or budgets but the operation of an ongoing war.”

Time gives a quick, efficient overview of the generals’ argument, writing, “Rumsfeld was wrong to disband the Iraqi military, has ignored the advice of people with far more battlefield experience and has shown too little concern about the abuses of Iraqi prisoners.” But the fourth strand of the anti-Rumsfeld argument may have the longest-lasting consequences: “Rumsfeld insisted on too small a force for the invasion, abandoning the doctrine championed by former Secretary of State and four-star general Colin Powell in 1991 after the Gulf War to attack rarely and then only with overwhelming force. Rumsfeld wanted to prove the Powell Doctrine obsolete. Instead, he has probably guaranteed that it will be followed for years.”

While President Bush strongly defended Rumsfeld late last week, Time notes that “In Washington such high praise from the president is sometimes the prelude to an execution. And behind the scenes, there are indications that the moment for a shuffle could be approaching,” with a former White House official who has worked with the defense secretary speaking of a possible “peace with honor” exit. A senior White House official shot down the possibility of a removal by Bush — although, as Time suggests, “Rumsfeld’s fate may be as much in the hands of the vice president as in the president’s.”

In any case, Rumsfeld is portrayed as determined to stay, with one friend saying “They will have to pry him from his stand-up desk with a crowbar.” “But,” concludes Time, “Rumsfeld may again be underestimating the strength of an insurgency — this one in his own backyard.”

Newsweek’s take is not as taut nor as focused. However, its “Anatomy Of a Revolt” does present some intriguing nuggets to consider — beginning with a lede featuring an interview with Rumsfeld castoff Gen. Eric Shinseki which, in its fifth paragraph, gets to the point: “The former four-star general appeared to be torn between his strong sense of duty and an uneasy conscience,” Newsweek reports, symbolizing a moral dilemma “as old as the republic.”

As Newsweek sees it, Rumsfeld is safely ensconced at the Pentagon, and, practically speaking, the rebellion may even “secure Rumsfeld’s job.” “He likes him,” a close friend of Bush tells the magazine. “He’s not blind. He knows Rumsfeld sticks his foot in it.”

Newsweek also colorfully reports on Rumsfeld’s grating management style, but perhaps its most interesting point is that, appearances to the contrary, Rumsfeld is in fact bothered by the current furor: “Rumsfeld worries that the whole concept of civilian control is ‘turned on its head’ by the revolt of the generals.”

Moving on, Newsweek reports on Iraq’s obscure Facilities Protection Services, “a mutant security agency that has grown from a 4,000-man group of ‘night watchmen’” charged in part with protecting public buildings, facilities and holy sites into a large, amorphous force 146,000 strong “that seems to lack any centralized control.” (Among those detained and questioned at length by the FPS: two employees of Newsweek.)

On two other stories this week, however, Time bests Newsweek again.

Newsweek’s Periscope provides a shallow piece on the Hollywood gossip surrounding Tom Hanks’ horrid mullet hairdo in the upcoming film The Da Vinci Code (concluding that gossiping about it is “low” while, of course, magnifying that gossip simply by dwelling upon it). Time, in contrast, delivers a moderately successful story seeking to explain the truth behind Opus Dei, the strict, secretive Catholic group portrayed so villainously in Da Vinci. Time is right that its “first journalistic pass” cannot fully explore many of the issues surrounding Opus Dei, but its rundown of the basics of the group’s history and practices provides an important starting point.

Finally, Newsweek provides an adequate, newsy summary of last week’s capture of Italy’s biggest Mob boss, 73-year-old Bernardo “The Tractor” Provenzano, but Time’s fun Letter From Sicily more captivatingly tells the story through the unique viewpoint of Renato Cortese, the cigar-smoking 41-year-old cop who had been hunting for Provenzano for seven years. “I’d had dreams about him, of his face, of the capture,” Cortese said. When the moment of truth finally arrived in a shepherd’s farmhouse, Provenzano “understood the jig was up.” “We just looked each other in the eye,” Cortese said. “We knew it was over for both of us.”

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.