Media did not report Gates sworn in 12 days after Senate confirmation because of Texas A&M commencement

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

Several media outlets uncritically reported President Bush's claim that he delayed the release of his new "way forward in Iraq" strategy from before Christmas to until January 2007 to allow new Defense Secretary Robert Gates to join the policy discussion and visit Iraq. These media outlets did not mention that the White House scheduled Gates' swearing-in ceremony fully 12 days after his Senate confirmation in order for him to attend commencement at Texas A&M before resigning as the school's president.

The Associated Press, The Washington Post, CNN, and Fox News all uncritically reported President Bush's claim that he delayed the release of a revised Iraq strategy to allow Defense Secretary Robert Gates to join the policy discussion and go to Iraq. But what they have not reported is the reason given by the White House for Gates' not being sworn in until December 18, despite having been confirmed by the Senate on December 6: that Gates wanted to attend commencement at Texas A&M University before resigning as president.

At his nomination hearing, Gates promised that he would talk to "commanders" in Iraq shortly after his swearing-in to be able to evaluate Iraq policy: "My evaluation of the impact of troops levels, and so on, on the situation on Iraq, I think, frankly, is too unformed to be helpful. And that's one of the reasons why I indicated that one of the first things that I would do, if I were confirmed, would be to go to Iraq and sit down and talk to the ground commanders about -- those commanders on the ground to find out what their views are about these different alternatives that we've been talking about. I've been talking about that, you know, sort of everything is on the table." The New York Times reported on December 7 that White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino "said Mr. Gates would be sworn in and formally begin work on Dec. 18, more than a week after his confirmation, because he wanted to participate in fall commencement at Texas A&M University before resigning as the school's president."

In the past few days, several media outlets have reported that Bush was waiting for Gates' input before releasing his new Iraq policy, without mentioning that Gates delayed his Iraq trip to serve as president at Texas A&M's commencement:

  • On the December 16 edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys, co-host and Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke claimed that Bush "held up announcement of his 'way forward in Iraq' -- the new strategy -- in order to give -- at least, partly in order to give Gates some input ... into the matter."
  • In a December 18 article, "Former Spy Chief Takes Over Pentagon" the AP reported that "Bush said last week that he would wait until January to announce his new strategy, to give Gates a chance to offer advice." While the AP noted that Gates "intend[ed] to travel to Iraq 'very soon' after being sworn in" and that Gates "completed his tenure over the weekend [as Texas A&M president] by attending three commencement ceremonies on the College Station campus," it did not note that Gates' swearing-in occurred nearly two weeks after his confirmation.
  • On the December 18 edition of CNN Newsroom, CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry uncritically reported that "President Bush said last week [that] one of the reasons why he delayed his speech in unveiling a new strategy in dealing with Iraq is he wanted Robert Gates to be brought in," without noting Gates' delay.
  • On the December 18 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux reported that "two things have to happen first" before "an announcement from the president about changes in tactics regarding the Iraq war and U.S. policy": Gates' official swearing-in and his "going to the region."
  • On the December 18 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, Malveaux reported that "not until Gates completes his trip to the region, gets a sense of Iraq himself, will the president, and ... his advisers sit down ... and craft the possible changes in Iraq policy, and make that announcement early next year."
  • On the December 18 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Fox News national security correspondent Mike Emanuel reported: "The president is planning to speak to the nation next month about the 'way forward in Iraq' and is waiting for Gates' assessment."
  • In a December 19 article, "Defense Chief Gates Sworn In," The Washington Post reported that "Bush has delayed speaking to the nation about his decisions on Iraq so Gates can make his own assessment."

Additionally, in a December 19 article, "Attacks in Iraq at Record High, Pentagon Says," The New York Times reported that "Gates said he planned to travel to Iraq shortly to consult with military commanders as part of a broad administration review of Iraq strategy." However, the article neither noted Bush's claim that he was waiting for Gates nor, despite the Times' own reporting, the reason Gates was not sworn in until December 18.

From the December 16 edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys:

KONDRACKE: Welcome back to The Beltway Boys. Let's check out the "Ups and Downs" for the week.

Up: incoming Defense Secretary Bob Gates. Gates gets officially sworn in next week, but he's already been taking part in the urgent talks that President Bush is holding on Iraq's future. And Gates is also expected to travel to Iraq within the next few weeks.

You know, President Bush held up announcement of his "way forward in Iraq" -- the new strategy -- in order to give -- at least, partly in order to give Gates some input into the -- into the matter.

From a December 18 Associated Press article:

When President Bush announced last month that he was switching Pentagon chiefs, he said he wanted "fresh perspective" on Iraq, acknowledging the current approach was not working well enough. Rumsfeld, who was lauded by Bush at a farewell ceremony on Friday, was a chief architect of the war strategy and still defends the decision to invade in March 2003.

Gates, 63, takes office amid a wide-ranging administration review of its approach to the war. Bush said last week that he would wait until January to announce his new strategy, to give Gates a chance to offer advice.

[...]

Gates said at his Senate confirmation hearing Dec. 5 that he intends to travel to Iraq "very soon" after being sworn in, so he could consult with senior U.S. commanders about how to adjust U.S. strategy. He also raises some eyebrows by saying, when asked whether the U.S. was winning in Iraq, "No, sir."

It's not yet clear whether Gates intends to immediately shake up the Pentagon by firing generals or replacing senior civilian officials. He has asked Gordon England, the deputy defense secretary, to remain, but some have already announced their departures, including the top intelligence official, Stephen Cambone.

Gates, who had been president of Texas A&M University since 2002, completed his tenure over the weekend by attending three commencement ceremonies on the College Station campus.

From the 1 p.m. ET hour of the December 18 edition of CNN Newsroom:

HENRY: And finally, Robert Gates. What he has going for him as a former CIA director -- he has the confidence of this president. In fact, President Bush said last week one of the reasons why he delayed his speech in unveiling a new strategy in dealing with Iraq is he wanted Robert Gates to be brought in. He wanted him to basically have a voice in these discussions.

But changing just one person, obviously, is not necessarily going to completely change the policy. We have to wait and see exactly what the president's speech is going to be in early January. This is just one person coming in, and there are enormous challenges, [CNN anchor] Kyra [Phillips].

From the December 18 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

MALVEAUX: Well, [host] Wolf [Blitzer], we're really, perhaps, as little as two weeks away from an announcement from the president about changes in tactics regarding the Iraq war and U.S. policy. But two things have to happen first: first, the official swearing-in of his new secretary of defense; and second, his secretary of defense going to the region, getting a sense of what Iraq is like firsthand.

Well, today, one of those things happened.

From the December 18 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

EMANUEL: The president is planning to speak to the nation next month about the "way forward in Iraq" and is waiting for Gates' assessment. Fox reported first last week President Bush is close to deciding that thousands more U.S. troops will be needed on the ground.

From the December 18 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

MALVEAUX: And, [host] Kitty [Pilgrim], again, not until Gates completes his trip to the region, gets a sense of Iraq himself, will the president, and, of course, his advisers sit down again and craft the possible changes in Iraq policy, and make that announcement early next year. Kitty?

PILGRIM: Suzanne, you know the president spoke of having Secretary Gates come up to speed, be brought up to speed on Iraq -- this trip clearly part of the process. What does that do to the timetable of decision-making, especially in light of all these dueling reports now?

From the December 19 Washington Post article:

Bush has delayed speaking to the nation about his decisions on Iraq so Gates can make his own assessment. Gates said he has been attending National Security Council meetings, has received briefings at the Pentagon and has discussed the situation with the president.

As U.S. officials debate whether to send more troops into Iraq or to create a major shift in military operations there, Bush said yesterday that he expects Gates to "help our country forge a new way forward in Iraq."

From the December 19 New York Times article:

The findings were issued on the day Robert M. Gates was sworn in as defense secretary, replacing Donald H. Rumsfeld.

At an afternoon ceremony at the Pentagon attended by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Gates said he planned to travel to Iraq shortly to consult with military commanders as part of a broad administration review of Iraq strategy.

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