Russert failed to note Pentagon's apparent role in Swarmer "hype"

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

In an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. told Tim Russert that Operation Swarmer -- a heavily publicized U.S.-Iraqi military campaign -- "got a little bit more hype than it really deserved because of the use of the helicopters to get the Iraqi and the coalition forces there," adding, "It might have looked a little more formidable than it actually was." But neither he nor Russert informed viewers about the apparent role of the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army in creating that "hype."

In an appearance on the March 19 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. told host Tim Russert that Operation Swarmer -- a heavily publicized U.S.-Iraqi military campaign -- "got a little bit more hype than it really deserved because of the use of the helicopters to get the Iraqi and the coalition forces there," adding, "It might have looked a little more formidable than it actually was." But while Casey, who commands the Multi-National Force in Iraq, appears to be correct that Operation Swarmer "got a little bit more hype than it really deserved," neither he nor Russert informed viewers about the apparent role of the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army in creating that "hype."

As Russert noted during the interview, a March 17 Time magazine web-exclusive article described Operation Swarmer as "a major offensive that failed to live up to its advance billing." From the article:

But contrary to what many many [sic] television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war. ("Air Assault" is a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

Though Casey asserted that the assault "picked up one or two of the high-value folks that they were looking for" and that it would "have a very disruptive effect on the terrorist and insurgent groups that were attempting to use that area," he went to say that he would not call it a "major combat operation."

From the March 19 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press:

CASEY: Tim, I wouldn't categorize Swarmer as a major combat operation. It was an operation to go out into a -- almost uninhabited area. So it was certainly nothing like the operation in Fallujah. I think, frankly, it got a little bit more hype than it really deserved because of the use of the helicopters to get the Iraqi and the coalition forces there. It might have looked a little more formidable than it actually was.

RUSSERT: But you do not rule out major combat operations in the future?

But neither Casey nor Russert mentioned the Defense Department's apparent role -- with the cooperation of much of the media -- in making Operation Swarmer look "more formidable than it actually was." On the March 16 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, correspondent Mike Boettcher reported from Baghdad that "[w]ithin hours of the operation, the Pentagon was handing out this video of the assault, all shot by Army cameramen." Boettcher described the distribution of such footage as "a rare event."

ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS all aired the Department of Defense video of Operation Swarmer on their March 16 evening newscasts, and the cable news networks repeatedly showed the footage -- including on Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, CNN's The Situation Room, and MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews.

On the March 16 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr noted that "[t]he coalition did not take U.S. media on this mission" and that the "Pentagon provided this first video of Operation Swarmer." Starr reported that the purpose of the operation was "to go after insurgents, but also to showcase those Iraqi security forces." From Starr's report:

STARR: Lou, a major military offensive to go after insurgents, but also to showcase those Iraqi security forces. The Pentagon provided this first video of Operation Swarmer, 1,500 troops, U.S. and Iraqis, moving into a 10- square-mile area north of Samarra. Led by the 101st Airborne Division, it was billed as the largest air assault mission since the invasion of Iraq. Iraqi intelligence had a number of tips showing insurgent activity in the area, some activity including foreign fighters. The coalition did not take U.S. media on this mission, but took great pains to discuss what Iraqi security forces were doing.

Similarly, in a report from Iraq on the March 16 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, senior international correspondent Nic Robertson stated: "All of the video and pictures provided by the Department of Defense."

On the March 19 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, Robertson explained that he was taken to the scene of the operation by the U.S. Army "on the second day of the operation after that big air assault was over." Robertson added: "The operations there had essentially completed. There was just sort of a security stance there, if you will. We didn't get to see an actual operation under progress to see how it was performed and who did exactly what."

In addition, the U.S. Army 101 Airborne Division's initial March 16 press release announcing the operation falsely described it as "the largest air assault operation since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003." The release -- available in the Nexis database -- added that the operation was named after the "largest peacetime airborne maneuvers ever conducted":

More than 1,500 Coalition troops and Iraqi security forces along with 200 tactical vehicles and 50 aircraft have launched the largest air assault operation since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003.

[...]

The tag Swarmer was derived from the name given to the largest peacetime airborne maneuvers ever conducted, in spring 1950 in North Carolina. Soon after this exercise, the 187th Infantry was selected to deploy to Korea as an Airborne Regimental Combat Team to provide General MacArthur with an airborne capability.

But as Fox News national security correspondent Bret Baier reported on the March 16 edition of Special Report, "Late in the day, the 101st Airborne Division issued a correction to its original press release, saying Operation Swarmer is actually the second largest air assault since the beginning of the war."

According to Baier, "[M]any senior Pentagon officials were caught off guard" by the initial press release, and "[s]everal Pentagon officials expressed a feeling that the raid was, quote, 'oversold'":

BAIER: Pentagon officials did not have any reports of shots fired, bombs dropped or missiles launched from helicopters in the operation. In fact, many senior Pentagon officials were caught off guard when this release from the 101st Airborne Division hit the wires, stating that Iraqi security forces and coalition partners, quote, "launched the largest air assault operation since Operation Iraqi Freedom began." Several Pentagon officials expressed a feeling that the raid was, quote, "oversold."

[...]

BAIER: Late in the day, the 101st Airborne Division issued a correction to its original press release, saying Operation Swarmer is actually the second largest air assault since the beginning of the war. The largest happened in Mosul in April of 2003. By late in the day, senior Pentagon officials were calling this ongoing operation just another in a long series of counter-insurgency operations in Iraq.

Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Tim Russert
Show/Publication
Meet the Press
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