The questions from the troops for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were considerably more friendly on his Christmas Eve visit to Iraq than they were on his previous trip to the region a couple of weeks ago.
"How do we win the war in the media?" asked one soldier in Mosul. Another soldier in Tikrit wondered why there is not more coverage of reconstruction efforts going on in the country.
"I guess what's news has to be bad news to get on the press," Rumsfeld responded to the first question — after supposing, with a big grin, "that does not sound like a question that was planted by the press."
"I think the American people get it," he responded to the second. "I agree with you, I wish it was possible that more of the good works you're doing here ... were considered newsworthy and were reported in a way that people would understand the progress that is being made, and it is being made because of you," he told the woman in Tikrit.
But he said in Mosul that the full picture "gets through eventually" and that "people do understand the acts of kindness and that large parts of the country are peaceful."
"We are a great country and we can benefit from having a free press," said Rumsfeld. "From time to time people can be concerned about it, but look where we've come as a country because we do have a free press."
He said he has great confidence "in the center of gravity" of the American people to sort through all the coverage to come to their own conclusions, but that "what hurts most" is "vicious" misrepresentations by the Arab media.
Two weeks ago at a forward base in Kuwait, a handful of soldiers openly challenged him about inadequate equipment and long deployments.
Rumsfeld cut off their complaints by saying, "You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have." That set off a wave of criticism of the defense chief's brusque manner.
It was disclosed later that a question about inadequate armor on some vehicles was arranged in advance by a reporter.