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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Defense Department has been aggressively challenging the accuracy of news reports since The Associated Press wrote that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had equated critics of the Iraq war to appeasers in a speech on Aug. 29.

The day after Rumsfeld’s remarks at the American Legion Convention in Salt Lake City, the Defense Department posted a lengthy rebuttal to an Associated Press story on the Early Bird, the department’s online compilation of Defense-related news stories.

The rebuttal said that the AP story mischaracterized Rumsfeld’s remarks about the era leading to World War II as an attack on war critics. It requested a correction. Several other media outlets published similar stories.

Between Aug. 30 and Oct. 13, the Defense Department sent 28 demands for corrections and letters-to-the-editor to newspapers in the United States, and posted them on the Early Bird. The Defense Department has challenged the accuracy of news stories, as well as editorials and columns.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman explained that the Defense Department feels it is important to correct inaccuracies or misunderstandings about the department and what it does.

“That is a responsibility we take very seriously,” Whitman wrote in an Oct. 4 e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

In one letter to the editor, former Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita slammed a New York Times story that compared how Rumsfeld plays squash to how he runs the Defense Department. The story also implied that the defense secretary bent the rules.

“I have worked closely with Mr. Rumsfeld, in addition to being a frequent competitor in squash. I have learned this above all else about him: In squash and in life, Mr. Rumsfeld succeeds precisely because he masters and adheres to the rules of whatever he is doing,” Di Rita wrote.

In addition to challenging major newspaper such as The New York Times, the Defense Department has also sent letters to smaller publications, such as the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph, The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette and the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Sun-Sentinel.

Whitman wrote the Macon paper a letter challenging a column that asserted Rumsfeld had turned down commanders’ requests for more troops to stabilize Iraq.

The paper did not run a correction, said Phil Dodson, of the Telegraph’s editorial board.

“Readers take exception to editorial opinions all the time and our reaction is, as always, to publish the opposing opinion,” said Charles E. Richardson, editorial page editor for the Macon Telegraph, in an Oct. 9 e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

Sig Christenson, president of the group Military Reporters and Editors and a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, said he feels the corrections are part of a Defense Department effort to deflect blame for mistakes in Iraq.

“When things go south, it’s easy to pin the blame on reporters, especially when you’re a leader in the government,” Christenson said. “But what’s interesting is, I haven’t seen any of those leaders accept responsibility for one mistake that has been made.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Whitman said. “We have a duty and obligation to aggressively correct the record when errors in fact are made. The readers [listeners and viewers too] expect and deserve nothing less.”

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