Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday blasted the media for reporting "myths and distortions" about the war in Iraq.
In his speech Tuesday morning at the 88th American Legion national convention inside the Salt Palace, Rumsfeld told thousands of veterans to help set the record straight.
"Your watchdog role is particularly important today in a war that is, to a great extent, fought in the media on a global stage," Rumsfeld said.
In every war, he added, there have been "mistakes, setbacks and casualties" and that most men and women in the military serve with decency and professionalism.
Rumsfeld also praised President Bush for his "strong resolve" in a time of war and told Americans to have the will for the United States to persevere in Iraq.
But he spent a chunk of his 18-minute speech criticizing the media.
The fact that the United States is fighting an enemy that is "serious, lethal and relentless" is not fully understood by Americans because of media that he indicated seek to divide the country.
It's a "strange" time in this country, he said, when an Internet search for a soldier who was punished for misconduct turns up 10 times as many Web sites as a search for the first Medal of Honor recipient in the "war on terror."
Rumsfeld referred to the media calling soldiers in Iraq a "mercenary Army," to certain media's "selective" news coverage and to a report that called the prisoner camp in Guantanamo Bay the "gulag of our time."
"It's inexcusable," Rumsfeld said. "Those who know the truth need to speak out against these types of myths and distortions that are being told about our troops and about our country. America is not what's wrong with the world."
Thousands of veterans among the estimated 12,000 Legionnaires and their family members at the convention punctuated Rumsfeld's comments with cheers.
Rumsfeld called it a privilege to work with a president who is "determined to protect our flag" and who remains the same man who told grieving Americans after 9/11, "'We will never forget what was lost."'
Those who criticize the war in Iraq need to learn from history's lessons, he said, recalling skeptics who thought threats of fascism and Nazism were exaggerated or were someone else's problems prior to World War II.
"Once again," Rumsfeld added, "we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism.
"Can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way vicious extremists can be appeased?" he asked.
Iraq is now on a "slow, bumpy, uncertain" path toward a secure future under a government Rumsfeld said will be at peace with its neighbors rather than a threat to the world.
"The strategy has not changed, which is to empower the Iraqi people to be able to defend, govern and rebuild their own country," he said. "The question is not whether we can win, it's whether we have the will to persevere to win I'm convinced that Americans do have that determination."
Legionnaires praised Rumsfeld's speech.
"I thought it was very much on target," said Gail Murdock of Maryland. Speaking about the war on terror, he said: "Either we fight them here or we fight them there."
Wisconsin resident Bob Batly said Rumsfeld "certainly spoke my mind."
"The war on terrorism is something we have to commit ourselves to," he said.
Echoing Rumsfeld's speech, Batly and Virginia Legionnaire Ike Kelley both said the public cannot let the media distort what is really happening over in Iraq.
"I don't think they're telling us the entire truth," Batly said.Rumsfeld last visited Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Games. He met with Olympic security officials and toured the Great Basin Logistics Support Area. He also attended speedskating races at the Utah Olympic Oval.
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