A Call for Roberta Rampton and Will Dunham of Reuters to Retire From Journalism

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 28: U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House August 28, 2014 in Washington, DC.  President Obama spoke on various topics including possible action against ISIL and immigration reform. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Let us simply start with the lede from Roberta Rampton and Will Dunham of Reuters, which actually tells us the important part we need to know about:

President Barack Obama will deliver a speech to Americans and consult with lawmakers this week to sell his plan to go on the offensive against Islamic State militants, but is trying to head off public concern about another big military escapade.

Setting aside the clunky headline, “Obama to set out plan to go on offensive against Islamic State”, the Reuters pair at least managed to make it through the lede without totally collapsing. But then they kept writing.

Obama said that in his remarks on Wednesday he would “describe what our game plan’s going to be.” He will meet congressional leaders on Tuesday to seek their support for his strategy to halt the militant Islamist group.

Obama indicated he did not believe he needed additional authorization from Congress to carry out the plan, although he intends to consult with lawmakers and might seek approval for additional funds.

“I’m confident that I have the authorization that I need to protect the American people,” Obama said. “But I do think it’s important for Congress to understand what the plan is, to have ‘buy in,’ to debate it.”

The president, who campaigned for the White House in 2008 on getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, has struggled to articulate how he wants to address Islamic State, telling reporters last month that “we don’t have a strategy yet” to tackle the group.

Is that how it goes?

Oh, wait, our apologies; we have somehow mistakenly classified Reuters as a news organization, which rather is quite embarrassing, given the bottom-shelf melodrama of Rampton and Dunham’s “report”. This really is somewhat offensive behavior. After all, if Rampton and Dunham were real reporters, they would never have workes so hard to craft such a wilful deception. Both Roberta Rampton and Will Dunham should retire from journalism, permanently.

Read those early paragraphs, the careful setup. And then attend that fifth paragraph again:

The president, who campaigned for the White House in 2008 on getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, has struggled to articulate how he wants to address Islamic State, telling reporters last month that “we don’t have a strategy yet” to tackle the group.

One of the magic privileges of pretending, as Rampton and Dunham have, to be reporters is that unlike with rational rhetoric, facts are irrelevant to journalism. After all, in rhetoric one is obliged to at least acknowledge the counterpoint; and if that counterpoint has the specific benefit of truth, honest people concede the point to reality.

It would seem that truth and reality have no place in the Reuters style guide.

Or, to be more specific, we might note that Steve Benen of msnbc already fielded this can of corn:

The moment the six-word sound bite was uttered, you could almost feel the manufactured outrage take shape, which is a shame because in context, this latest shocking development wasn’t especially shocking.

Look at the transcript. A reporter asked the president, “Do you need Congress’ approval to go into Syria?” Obama’s obvious point was to challenge the premise of the question – to assume that the United States is poised to use military force in Syria is premature. The Obama administration has already spent three weeks launching several dozen airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, but because Syria is a much different story, the White House is still consulting with allies and talking with Pentagon officials about the next step.

And in a nutshell, that’s the story. That’s the basis for the latest political-world uproar. A reporter asked whether Congress needs to approve a mission in Syria and the president said there is not yet a mission to approve. Why is this scandalous? It isn’t.

See how that works? When we go back and check the factual record, Rampton and Dunham fail the test. And this was hardly a complicated question. The president was asked about rapidly-developing events and situations in Syria, and that was the question he answered. The inflation from that to, “telling reporters last month that “we don’t have a strategy yet” to tackle the group” is absolutely unacceptable. Reuters owes a correction. Rampton and Dunham owe apologies. And, furthermore, they would better serve the world of journalism by removing themselves from it entirely.

And that is just looking at the factual basis. Considering questions of principle—well, that’s just the thing, isn’t it? reporters and principles . . . .—we might wonder if principles themselves have any place in the Reuters style guide.

Benen continues:

Without context, Republicans and much of the media appears to have decided that “We don’t have a strategy yet” can effectively be translated to mean “We have no counter-terrorism strategy as it relates to ISIS.” Except, we already know that’s not the case – 93 U.S. airstrikes against ISIS targets in two weeks shows otherwise.

In the bigger picture, we see the Bill Kristols of the world insisting that the Obama administration can simply launch a new phase in the conflict and “see what happens.” It’s the sort of attitude we’ve seen before – we can launch a war in Iraq, for example, with no real plan for the consequences, and “see what happens.”

Thankfully, the president has a different approach. To see deliberate thought and planning as the object of criticism is a mistake – delaying military intervention in the Middle East until a firm strategy is in place is a positive, not a negative.

It’s a feature of the president’s foreign policy, not a bug.

Much of the media seems stunned by the process: “You mean, Obama intends to think this through and then decide whether to pursue military options in Syria?” Why, yes, actually he does. The question isn’t why Obama has adopted such an approach; the question is why so many are outraged by it.

It never was a difficult statement to interpret. To the other, it always did seem just a bit toward the tinfoil side of cynicism to wonder if the press botched foreign policy reporting because wars are capital opportunities for them. Perhaps that is the president’s offense, here, in not doing enough for Reuters’ bottom line by rushing American military commitment to a situation we don’t want, don’t have a clear idea how to handle, and if we thought it was bad when the charred bodies of American contractors hung from the bridge—something American press was too cowardly to show its audience—do we really have the stomach for what’s about to come? Every desecrated military body, every tortured soldier, the president has to answer for, and rightly so. Then again, such as it is, why would he rush?

Who knows, maybe the neoconservative way is just better for Reuters’ bottom line. But the facts we have here are definitive; for whatever reason, Rampton and Dunham tanked their reporting, and for whatever other reasons, it’s probably time we should stop being surprised. The only real difference between Reuters and, say, FOX News, would seem to be the masthead itself.

And the world would be better off if Roberta Rampton and Will Dunham handed in their resignations and never again in their lives pretend to be reporters.

____________________

Rampton, Roberta and Will Dunham. “Obama to set out plan to go on offensive against Islamic State”. Reuters. 7 September 2014.

Benen, Steve. “Obama crafting plan for ISIS threat in Syria”. msnbc. 29 August 2014.

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