The media extensively covered Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's December 8 "town hall" meeting in Kuwait, in which an American soldier asked Rumsfeld about the military's insufficient supply of vehicle armor. Two days after that meeting, the Army ordered its main supplier of armored vehicles to increase production from 450 to 550 vehicles per month. But as Salon.com columnist Joe Conason noted December 14, this was not the first time that a soldier had asked Rumsfeld about the military's lack of armor. Seven months earlier, at a May 13 "town hall" meeting in Baghdad, a soldier expressed concern to both Rumsfeld and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, who accompanied Rumsfeld, about the troops' inadequate vehicle and body armor. At the time, some in the media did report the soldier's concerns about armor shortages. But now, despite extensively covering the American soldier's December 8 questions to Rumsfeld, the press, as Conason noted, has seemingly forgotten that this happened before.
The May 13 "town hall" meeting in Baghdad came during Rumsfeld's surprise visit to Iraq immediately after the release of prisoner abuse photos at the Abu Ghraib prison. A soldier told Rumsfeld he had a question about "force protection," at which point Rumsfeld ceded the microphone to Myers. According to a Defense Department transcript of the May 13 meeting, the soldier asked Myers:
Sir, my unit, the 2nd Brigade -- (inaudible) -- Cav, we have five out of the six red zones in this country. And with the up-armored humvees, the new -- (off mike) -- humvees they're bringing over with the -- (inaudible) -- those doors are not as good as the ones on the up-armored humvees -- (inaudible). We even lost quite -- we lost some soldiers due to them, and we're trying to make a change -- (inaudible). The question is, are we going to get more up-armored humvees?
And the second question I wanted to ask is, they have the new -- (inaudible) -- vests out that covers your -- (inaudible). We need those because we have taken some casualties due to the shrapnel from IEDs [improvised explosive devices] going through the side. The front parts are good, but the sides are not.
Myers's answer was similar to the one Rumsfeld gave on December 8; he claimed that it was a matter of production capabilities:
You can imagine we spend a lot of time on force protection, and our responsibility, I think, is to ensure we have the resources and protection lines and all that cranked up to get the equipment we need.
You mentioned the vests and now the part for the armpits and the sides that are not covered with the SAPI [small arms protective inserts] plates and not covered adequately by the vest. They're -- we producing them and sending them over here as fast as we can.
We're trying to get them [armored Humvees] to you as fast as we can. We understand the difference they can make, and for that matter we're shipping some armor over as well.
CNN, FOX News Channel, and MSNBC all covered the May 13 meeting live. CNN host Wolf Blitzer commented on the soldier's question while speaking to CNN military analyst, retired Major General Don Shepperd, following the live broadcast (transcripts for live events on CNN are available on Nexis, while FOX News Channel and MSNBC are not). Blitzer said:
And I was struck by the real practical question, why some of those troops, perhaps more than just some, feel they don't have proper body armor, they don't have proper protection in their Humvees. What's going on to better protect them from these improvised explosive devices along roadsides or whatever?
According to Nexis, the following major newspapers published stories on the meeting: USA Today, The Seattle Times, Newsday, The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The St. Petersburg Times, and The New York Daily News. But only four major newspapers, The Seattle Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and the New York Daily News, mentioned the soldier's question to Rumsfeld and Myers.
The Los Angeles Times and The Seattle Times ran similar articles on May 14, reporting: "Army personnel asked for more adequate bulletproof armor, armored Humvees and better insurance coverage, and they spoke of the difficulties of being deployed abroad." The May 14 Boston Globe article reported: "Inviting questions from soldiers, Rumsfeld and Myers were asked why many of their Humvees were not armor-plated, and why the bulletproof vests left vulnerable parts exposed, despite the daily gunfire and explosive devices lobbed at the soldiers by Iraqis." The May 14 New York Daily News article reported: "But in a question-and-answer session, the troops hit Rumsfeld with a series of questions - on the lack of Humvee armor and support from other nations - like those he routinely faces in the U.S."
Media Matters could not find evidence that any television news broadcast or newspaper article reported after the December 8 meeting that the question had previously been asked.