Average Americans Frustrated With Washington Press

Every day, they gather at the Pentagon and clamor to ask questions about the war on terror.

They demand details about military strategy, civilian casualties and locations of troops and targets. Their inquiries are laced with skepticism over how the government is handling the war.

That cynicism has made some average Americans angry.

"I guess they've forgotten the events of Sept. 11, when thousands of civilians here died for no apparent reason," Sam Marino, 25, a bartender at the Franklin Steak House and Tavern in Nutley, N.J., said of the Pentagon press corps.

With America's war on terror approaching its third month, the tone in media reports is increasingly bleak. Why haven't we won the war already, they ask. Why are civilians dying, they want to know. Where is Usama Bin Laden, they demand.

The questions aren't going over well with out-of-the-beltway Americans, nearly 80 percent of whom tell pollsters they approve of the war's progress.

"The pundits sitting on their fat backsides in Washington — I really have a problem with them," fumed World War II Navy veteran Jim Goran of Bloomfield, N.J. "I would jail them, that's how angry I am."

Goran takes issue with most of the questions posed by the press corps, calling them "insensitive, unpatriotic and devoid of any intelligence."

At Wednesday's Pentagon briefing, reporters asked Defense Department spokesman Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem to provide more details about the recent, heavier bombing in Afghanistan and targets that were struck a day earlier.

"Admiral, what's the rationale for not saying where the B-52s hit Tuesday?" one journalist asked. "We're getting reports from eyewitnesses they hit; the bad guys know where you hit. What's the big secret?"

Stufflebeem responded — as he did several times during the news conference — that he wouldn't go into specifics.

"It's one thing to have seen one fly overhead if you're on the ground," he said. "It's another thing to broadcast an intention of a type of target or tactic and a specific weapons system that is optimized against that."

Many Franklin Steak House patrons said the press and the public don't need the scoop on each move the military makes in the war.

"We don't need to know everything. They can't tell us everything," said Jamie Deberto, 34, a Web designer from Bloomfield. "It's frustrating — they know they shouldn't be asking some of these questions."

She and others think revealing all troop strategies and movements spells defeat.

"That reporting is doing the intelligence gathering for our enemy," said communications systems engineer John Gadoury, 54, of Bradford, N.H. "Our news system shouldn't be in that business."

The Washington press corps has pummeled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials with questions about Afghan civilian casualty numbers — and mused at the ethics of bombing during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Most here don't share the media's concern with those issues.

"The press has been almost obsessed with whether the campaign is going to end before Ramadan and how many civilian casualties the Taliban are suffering," said lawyer and state legislator Kevin O'Toole, 37, of Cedar Grove, N.J. "But the people of the United States believe those things are not relevant during times of war. Is Bin Laden going to take a break on Christmas?"

He expressed frustration at the media's apparent impatience with how long the war is taking, and said that's not in line with what the average American feels.

"They're doing a disservice to the American people, the presidency and national security by trying to make this a 24-hour war," O'Toole said. "The American people are very patient with this military action."

Not all Franklin patrons believe the press has been off-base, however.

"We should definitely know all the moves," said Greg Lampariello, 31, head chef at Terrazza, another restaurant in Nutley. "They should keep pressuring [the government] to tell us what's going on. They're our lifeline to the other side."

That opinion wasn't shared by the majority of patrons. Most said they wished the D.C. press corps would report the news without cynicism and join with other Americans in rallying around the cause.

"I think they've lost the moral," said Jennifer Hartos, 23, a medical assistant from Bloomfield. "They've lost a sense of American pride."