TV cameras picked up an interesting exchange between Gen. David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates during Gates's surprise trip to Afghanistan today, and the media's jumping all over it. But there's some interesting information missing from the "joke" that gives it much more context and could quickly quell the media storm.
While exchanging pleasantries on the tarmac, ABC's Jake Tapper quotes Petraeus and Gates as having the following exchange:
"Welcome back, sir,” Petraeus said to Gates. This is Gates’ 13th trip to Afghanistan as Secretary of Defense.
The two men began walking.
"You returning to normal, you gonna launch some attacks on Libya or something?" Petreaus joked to Gates.
"Yeah, exactly,” Gates joked back.
Jake Tapper is an outstanding reporter, and we have praised him many times on this site. However, Tapper may have missed something here. Below is video of the exchange, which includes closed captioning. See if you can pick out the difference:
Did you catch it? Where Tapper quotes Petraeus as saying, "You returning to normal" during the first half of the controversial line, the video quotes him as saying, "Flying a little bigger plane than normal?"
Prima facia, that may not seem like a big deal. But it is.
The way Tapper quotes Petraeus, it makes the first part of the line insignificant. But the way the video quotes Petraeus, it makes the first part of the line possibly the most significant part of the whole quote. That's because it gives context: the subject of the quote shifts to the size of Gates's plane and away from Libya. This, then, was more about Petraeus jabbing his boss about taking such a big form of transportation (bombers are rather large) rather than using Libya and its people as a pawn in a good-ol'-boys joke.
To be fair, Politico is still running a story with the wrong quote. To ABC's credit, it did post the right quote in its video. Others did too. But what they all need to understand is that this isn't as big of a story as it seems.
And how about this for irony: the president announced today that the U.S. could start military action against Libya via NATO.
What a joker.
A newly-released photo from the Associated Press shows the plane Gates flew in on rivals the size of Air Force One: