Tom Ricks on Michael Krasny's Forum Show at KQED
Thomas Jefferson: American Sphinx

Hoisted from Comments: Dan Tompkins Defends Thomas E. Ricks

He writes:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Thomas E. Ricks (2006), "Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq": I like Brad's work, but I'm disturbed by his comments (and Billmon's) on Ricks. Brad referred to the first half of 2004, so I pulled up all the Ricks pieces from that period and re-read them. Working backward from June 30 to April 1, I've got 20 stories that provide information and perspectives that the administration would not have wanted to hear, about resistance, torture, leadership and other topics. About five more stories would possibly be called "neutral."

I stopped counting at that point, but did note that Ricks' January stories included the need to change tactics and other problems.

On 12/29/03 it was reported that the Pentagon was already unhappy with Ricks: "When George Bush's Pentagon doesn't like what a reporter writes, it attempts a preemptive strike.

"In the case of Tom Ricks, military reporter for the Washington Post, the Pentagon took the attack right to the heart of the enemy. Defense Department spokesman Larry DiRita first sent a letter of complaint to the Post; then he met with the paper's top editors to press his points.

"Ricks is one of the most senior defense reporters in the country. He covered military affairs for the Wall Street Journal for 17 years and has been doing the same for the Post since 1999. He's written two books about the military, one about the Marines and a novel about the US intervention in Afghanistan, published four months before the United States sent in troops."

The evidence seems to be he was doing a pretty good job.

Dan Tompkins

Dan looks at the gap between what the White House wanted printed and what Ricks wrote in 2004, and concludes that Ricks "was doing a pretty good job." I look at the gap between what Ricks writes in Fiasco and what Ricks wrote in 2004, and conclude that White House pressure did a pretty good job of neutering Ricks: that he (and his bosses) knuckled under substantially.

I want everybody to note this: Tom Ricks's coverage of Iraq in 2003-2004 was as good as it got. But it is very different in tone, judgment, and conclusions from Tom Ricks's message in _Fiasco_. It is the gap between the very good and very shrill _Fiasco_ and the daily news stories that is, I think, the most remarkable thing here.

The harder question and the better defense--but not one that any defender of Ricks has advanced publicly--is "If he'd written what he knew was going on, they'd have pulled his press pass. Ricks can't function without his press pass."