WAR ON IRAQ THE FRONT LINE: Roll Up, Roll Up for the General Tommy Franks Media Show

By Macintyre, Donald | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), March 23, 2003 | Go to article overview
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WAR ON IRAQ THE FRONT LINE: Roll Up, Roll Up for the General Tommy Franks Media Show


Macintyre, Donald, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


It had been a long time coming. The famous Hollywood set in the As-Saliyah briefing room with its soft-blue plasma screens - so surrealistically out of kilter with the terrifying TV pictures from Baghdad - had been ready for days. But for the first 72 hours of the war in Iraq the man making all the key decisions had other things on his mind - even in this most media-focused of major wars - than talking to a crowd of journalists.

When the hour came, however, the Tommy Franks show had all the build- up of a command performance. You had to jostle your way into the briefing room when the doors opened two hours before it was due to begin just to be sure of a seat. There was a 15-minute warning from one staff officer that the general was about to arrive. Then, with all the precision with which the war is being conducted, there was another two-minute warning before he stepped on to the stage in his camouflaged fatigues, a craggy, crew-cut figure, who looks younger than his 57 years, on the dot of 2pm local time.

And because this was above all for the networks, a pretty US anchor braved some sardonic applause just a few moments earlier to tell her viewers what to expect.

General Franks is a man who weighs his words carefully before he answers, less loquacious and less of a showman than Norman Schwarzkopf, who was doing this job in the last Gulf War. Nevertheless, his presentation was longer on rhetoric than hard fact; and he left what there was in detail to a tall, black Brigadier General, Vince Brooks.

Maybe this isn't a surprise. His stated reason to the "good question" of why he hadn't surfaced earlier was that he wasn't prepared to say things that might endanger his soldiers' lives. And there may be something in this. Franks - a much-decorated veteran of Vietnam and the last Gulf War - is a general who has been known to irritate politicians by being over-cautious.

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