In the last two weeks many people (mostly women) came to my site after I wrote a post about wanting to clone Brigadier General Vincent Brooks. Below is a great story from Newday on America’s new “unwilling star.” Btw, for more great pictures of Brig. Gen. Brooks, click here.
Unwilling ‘Star’: Army spokesman adjusts to instant fame.
Written by Verne Gay for Newsday
April 9, 2003
In this thoroughly modern TV age of videophones, embeds and live coverage through the day and night, a big war can yield big TV stars. And if these stars could be split into two camps – those embracing the bright lights and those not – Vincent K. Brooks belongs to the coalition of the unwilling.
By now, you may know Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, deputy director of operations for the U.S. Army, and spokesman for more than a quarter-million U.S. troops. His Central Command briefings air weekday mornings, and have become a fixture of morning television. His pronouncements are repeated throughout the day on cable, and often punctuate the lead story of every evening newscast.
Day in, day out, Vincent Brooks has more face time than Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw combined.
Other facts: He is African-American, age 44, usually ramrod straight, and tall (well over 6 feet), although the effect of TV makes him appear somewhat shorter to viewers back home. He occasionally bows his head, and peers sternly and blandly at the assemblage of reporters that fills the Centcom briefing room in Doha, Qatar, just after 7 a.m. EST. He is the not entirely forthcoming professor, and they are the eager and not particularly satisfied students.
One more abundantly clear fact: Exactly three weeks into the war, Brooks has arguably become the face of the U.S. war effort, both here and abroad, thanks to the all-pervasive tube. Yet, by some accounts, this is a job he reportedly did not campaign for nor seek, but then neither did his boss, Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the coalition forces, who is famously allergic to the limelight.
Franks has four stars. Brooks has one, and so…. Now, Brooks must suffer the wages of instant fame. Centcom headquarters in Doha has received dozens of requests for Brooks’ profiles – all spurned. “He doesn’t feel it’s appropriate for him to go out front,” a Centcom representative explains. “It’s not about him.” Even West Point – from which Brooks graduated in 1980 – has been swamped with requests to speak with Brooks’ brother, Leo Brooks Jr., the academy’s commandant in charge of cadets. When his father, Leo, was contacted and casually asked how many other reporters had called, he sighed and said: “Oh, Lord. …”
Vincent Brooks has received, for the most part, accolades. “From what I’ve seen, he’s quite candid and forthcoming,” says Joseph Lorfano, former U.S. Navy Commander, who held the daily press briefings in Saigon in 1967 and 1968. “I think he’s great. He looks great and talks great, and that’s part of it. You have to get the press to have confidence in what you’re telling them.”
Others – yes, professional journalists – are less effusive. “He conveys authority, level-headedness, composure and a rational, nonemotional approach to the events,” says Al Ortiz, CBS News’ executive producer of special events who is an overseer of the network’s war coverage. Yet Brooks, he adds, is also “very careful to repeat [the military’s] basic message over and over again and the end result is that there’s a very limited amount of information that’s coming out of the Centcom briefings.”
One reporter covering the war is more blunt: “A lot of us find him robotic. He has five scripted things to say and a lot of stuff he just won’t answer.” Brooks’ job, to be sure, is tricky. He must convey a little propaganda, a little information, and confirm or deny the steady stream of reports that about 600 embedded correspondents are producing by the hour. Meanwhile, he must still convey absolute authority – all of this before the pitiless eye of the TV camera.
To accomplish all of this, spin is vital: “The entry of coalition forces into Iraq has been one of continued progress. … The plan remains sound and effective, and there’s also more work to be done,” he said Monday, echoing a statement he seems to make most days. Obfuscation is, too. “We are continuing operations, we are not finished, and we have no illusion about the fact that there is still work ahead,” he said recently in response to a detailed question about reported attacks on bridges near Baghdad.
Nevertheless, it is also clear that Vincent Brooks did not enter this world to please reporters. He was born to an Army family in Anchorage, Alaska, and led an itinerant Army life. His father, also a general, would later become a high-ranking official of Philadelphia’s city government at the time police dropped a bomb on the headquarters of the radical group MOVE in 1985, killing 11 people. (He left the job shortly afterward.) Vincent grew up in California, became a star basketball player, and decided to follow his brother to West Point, where he became “first captain,” or leader of more than 4,000 cadets in his senior year. He was the first black to hold this post, which was once held by Douglas MacArthur and John Pershing. He was later a National Security Fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
As a career soldier, Brooks served, among many places, in Korea and Kosovo, where he was commander of a 6,000-member force. His most recent job was commander of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga. He became a general last year.
A glorious career, so why the reticence about his newfound TV fame? His father, who also declined to be interviewed, offered this possible reason in a prepared statement: “My son, though in the public eye and admirably so, is not a hero. Those kids being shot at and even killed are far more deserving of public recognition. I will not exploit the hunger for knowledge nor slip into a gloat for my son … while other families weep. … That’s all I can do to respect these other people whose sons and daughters are not coming home.”