Dorrance Smith, acting assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, was officially confirmed to the job by a Senate vote of 59 to 34 Friday, but not before he took some fire for his suggestion that U.S. broadcast networks were "partners" with Osama Bin Laden and other terrorists.
During a hearing on Smith's nomination to the post once held by Tori clarke--he has already been serving in that capacity due to a recess appointment--Democratic Senators Carl Levin (Mich.) and Jack Reed (R.I.), slammed Smith as the wrong man for the job.
The offending comments came in an op ed in The Wall Street Journal. Criticizing U.S. network carriage of tapes from Al Jazeera, Smith wrote that Osama Bin Laden has a "partner" both in Al Jazeera and, "by extension" U.S. networks including his own former digs, ABC, as well as NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN and MSNBC. Levin called the statement reckless and irresponsible.
Levin suggested that if anyone on the Senate floor had said that Fox was in league with the 9/11 terrorists, not only would they owe an apology not only to Fox but to every victim of the attacks. Levin said he defended Smith's right to express that opinion, but said that someone who holds that opinion should not hold that job.
Reed concurred, calling it a "gross lack of judgment."
Senator John Warner defended Smith, saying no media representatives, to his knowledge, have weighed in to oppose the nomination. He said Smith had expressed to him that his word choice might not have been the best, and asked his colleages which of them had not made statements they wished they could re-craft.
Reed countered that it was not an off-hand statement or extemporaneous response to quizzing, but a carefully crafted editorial.
Reed related it to other administration suggestions that the media doesn't get the story right about Iraq.
LEvin and Reed may think he is the wrong man for the job, but the Defense Department is clearly paying more attention to the effect of war images on the homefront and Muslim world.
The administration has essentially opened a second, media, front in the war on terrorism. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in a February speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Rumsfeld said:
"Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we -- our country -- has not -- whether our government, the media or our society generally.
Consider that the violent extremist have established "media relations committees" -- and have proven to be highly successful at manipulating opinion elites. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communications to intimidate and break the collective will of free people.
They know that communications transcend borders -- and that a single news story, handled skillfully, can be as damaging to our cause and as helpful to theirs, as any other method of military attack. And they are doing it."
Smith is a former ABC news executive (Nightline, This Week With David Brinkley) who has also served as senior media advisor to the Coalition Provisoinal Authority in Iraq and was assistant to the President for media affairs for the first President Bush, as well as staff assistnat to President Gerald Ford.