The thundering herd speaks, sort of

The mainstream media have perfected the art of the stampede, and it seems to be on display in the case of the now-infamous Rumsfeld autopen. According to this Google News roundup, approximately 840 stories have run on Rumsfeld’s admitted use of an autopen to sign condolence letters to the families of fallen soldiers. The thundering herd has spoken.
Among the journalists and editorial writers whose support of the military is not otherwise apparent, the autopen controversy is a perfect pretext for an attack on an administration official whom they detest for reasons other than lack of sympathy for those under his command. See, for example, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial “Signing off on sacrifice.”
Only the New York Times and the Minneapolis Star Tribune come to mind as possibly more reliable left-wing American anti-Bush newspapers than the P-I. Today’s Star Tribune, for example, runs Bob Herbert’s New York Times column “Troops deserve better than they’re getting in this war.” Perfect.
Journalists fancy themselves to be skeptics and contrarians. But where among the thundering herd is the article, column or editorial that provides the historical context necessary to render a fair judgment on Rumsfeld’s use of the autopen for condolence letters? If there is one, I’m sure one of our readers will point it out to me, but I haven’t found it yet. I’m pretty sure, however, that something other than concern for the troops and their families is the mainspring of the action here.
My own personal experience is limited and badly dated, but it prompts me to look for the larger context. I worked as an intern in the office of then-Senator Walter Mondale in the summer of 1969. Those of us who read his mail sorted it into the appropriate categories based on the salutation and subject matter of the correspondence.
All letters with a salutation to “Senator Mondale” were sorted by subject matter for appropriate response by a staffer (mostly choosing the right form letter) and signature by use of the office autopen. We ran the responses through the autopen machine where the “Walter F. Mondale” signature was applied over his typewritten name.
All letters with the salutation “Dear Fritz” (the nickname by which Mondale is addressed by friends) were designated “first-name” letters for special treatment with a less formal signature. Above the typewritten name of “Walter F. Mondale” I signed those letters “Fritz” after being given a specimen of the original from which to work. There must be a few of those personal letters from Senator Mondale to constitutents that I had the honor of signing on his behalf now proudly framed by their owners and hanging on walls around Minnesota.
I don’t know, but I suspect, that the comparable office practices of prior Secretaries of Defense or of Rumsfeld’s contemporary Senate critics might provide a useful context for evaluation of the merits of this particular story.


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