Posted by Wordsmith on 1 May, 2008 at 1:27 pm. 18 comments already!

It’s that time of the year again, folks:

Republican John McCain said President Bush should not be held responsible for the much-criticized “Mission Accomplished” banner five years ago, but he should be blamed for bungling the early months of the war.

On Thursday, the fifth anniversary of Bush’s dramatic landing on an aircraft carrier where the banner hung, McCain said, “I thought it was wrong at the time.”

“So all I can tell you was that I was the strongest advocate, or one of the strongest advocates, for changing to adopt the surge,” McCain told reporters. “And I think that history will judge me by the fact that I thought it was wrong.”

McCain said he can’t blame Bush for the banner. After shifting explanations, the White House eventually said the “Mission Accomplished” phrase referred to the carrier’s crew completing its 10-month mission, not the military completing its mission in Iraq.

I’ve blogged on this almost every year. It was a great speech, whose contents are overshadowed by the “Mission Accomplished” banner, spun by the derision of political opponents and war critics.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was also someone who didn’t like the banner, nor the “implication of finality”, to which he had taken a critical pen to drafts of the speech that implied any kind of finality and over-optimism. From an interview with Bob Woodward:


MR. WOODWARD: And you know, one thing — just one quick thing not on the list but someone told me about the other day, which I found fascinating. When the person that gave that speech on the Lincoln with the “Mission Accomplished” on the back, somebody told me that the White House speechwriters had used MacArthur’s surrender speech on the Missouri as a model. And they literally had in that speech “the guns are silent,” and you edited it out.

SEC. RUMSFELD: I took “mission accomplished” out. I was in Baghdad, and I was given a draft of that thing to look at. And I just died, and I said my God, it’s too conclusive. And I fixed it and sent it back..

MR. WOODWARD: were you on the trip?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I was. And we got it back and they fixed the speech, but not the sign.

MR. WOODWARD: That’s right. But it had “the guns are silent,” and someone said you line-edited it out and said the guns are not silent.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah, that’s for darn sure.

MR. WOODWARD: Is that —

SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah. No, there’s no question but that I was well aware that things were still happening there. I was there.

And who was responsible for the inclusion of the banner?

Robert Draper writes in Dead Certain (hardly what I’d call a “pro-Bush” book), pg 194-5:

Scott Sforza flew out to the USS Lincoln five days before the speech. Sforza was the White House’s in-house producer.

~~~

In the course of his labors, Sforza became quite taken with the crew. When they mentioned to the White House aide that they would like to emblazon the stage with a banner reading MISSION ACCOMPLISHED so as to send up a victorious signal to their families and Navy buddies, Sforza loved the spirit of it and was effusive in his pitch to Fleischer, Bartlett, and the others. By conference call, they mused among themselves: Could the slogan backfire? But Fleischer reminded the others that the press had been haranguing Bush to declare an end to major combat operations for weeks now. The press shop gave Sforza the green light.

Sforza had the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner designed by a private vendor, with a slick red-white-and-blue background. It was unfurled and pinned alongside the carrier, directly behind where the president would give his nationally televised speech on the evening of May 1.

According to Draper’s book, pg196,

(Rumsfeld learned of the banner only after the fact and was not pleased. The final draft of the speech, he would say, “was properly calibrated. But the sign left the opposite impression, and that was unfortunate.”)

Perhaps no one took it harder than Scott Sforza, who knew the truth! The banner- it was for the troops! And everyone was saying that the White House was announcing “mission accomplished”! When anyone could plainly see in the text, plainly hear the president say it: We have difficult work to do in Iraq.

And anyway, no one in the media bothered to call Sforza and find out what the facts were. This was what so galled him. Because Sforza had worked with the great ones, Koppel and Brinkley and Roone Arledge, back in the day when reporters weren’t hired just for their looks. It was quite a somber epiphany for the man who had spent the past week adjusting lights and divining camera angles and dressing up crew members in matchning colors….

The media- they just don’t pay attention to facts the way they used to.

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