Obama and the Wounded Troops: Lynn Sweet Sets the Record Straight

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The story of Obama’s cancelled visit to the wounded troops at Landstuhl has had many twists and turns. But since last week, the Republicans have been citing a blogpost by Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet as evidence that the Obama campaign was (falsely) accusing the Pentagon of refusing the candidate access to the troops. It turns out the real story is more about a bad headline and a server crash. Here’s how it goes:

An item I posted July 25 about Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) canceling a visit to a U.S. military base in Germany has now become grist for the Republicans to attack Obama.

Some points:

*Contrary to what the Republican National Committee stated in one of their missives, Obama senior strategist David Axelrod never said that the Pentagon told the campaign Obama should not come to the base. The GOP, citing my blog post, wrote in one of their releases, “Obama Senior Strategist David Axelrod Said The Pentagon Told The Campaign That Barack Obama “Should Not Come.”

*The headline on my original post were my words–not Axelrod’s. That headline “Pentagon tells Obama not to visit U.S. troops at German base because it would be too political” was my take.

I revised the headline a few hours later because it was wrong. The Pentagon never told Obama not to come. The issue was whether Obama campaign military advisor Scott Gration, a retired Air Force General, could accompany Obama. I also rewrote a paragraph to eliminate an Axelrod quote that I misunderstood.

The new headline on my post read “Pentagon tells Obama aide a visit to U.S. base in Germany would be seen as political.” I thought that new headline and revised paragraph solved the problem; usually there is just one URL for a blog post. But due to a server glitch at the Sun-Times, both the original and updated versions existed on the Internet. The Republicans have been linking to the original post and not the updated version.

Here’s the explanation Obama gave Saturday in London when asked about the cancelled visit to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center:

Q. Can you clear up the controversy about visiting the troops in Germany, the Pentagon said you were more welcome to come but you cant bring the media and were not allowed to bring campaign staff other than that you are more than welcome anytime, inaudible, we have gotten a few conflicting claims…

OBAMA: The staff was working this so I don’t know each and every detail but here is what I understand happened. We had scheduled to go, we had no problem at all in leaving, we always leave press and staff off that is why we left it off the schedule. We were treating it in the same way we treat a visit to Walter Reed which I was able to do a few weeks ago without any fanfare whatsoever. I was going to be accompanied by one of my advisors, former military officer. And we got notice that he would be treated as a campaign person and it would therefore be perceived as political because he had endorsed my candidacy but he wasn’t on the senate staff.

That triggered then a concern that maybe our visit was going to be perceived as political and the last thing that I want to do is have injured soldiers and the staff at these wonderful institutions having to sort through whether this is political or not or get caught in the crossfire between campaigns. So rather than go forward and potentially get caught up in what might have been considered a political controversy of some sort what we decided was that we not make a visit and instead I would call some of the troops that were that. So that essentially would be the extent of the story.

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