The most important issue in all of this (the question posed by a soldier to Secretary RUMSFELD during a meeting with troops) is the truth, and finding it. Reporters and citizens have used, and continue to use, nearly limitless legal means to draw the truth out of the government. The Defense Department and US military operations in Iraq are part of that process. Rather than criticizing the reporter in this case for not doing the politically correct thing (I have trouble seeing much of an ethical issue here), we ought to be congratulating the process. If I were a reporter and I could legally bring more truth, more facts, to the attention of the public by legal means, I would use every single one of them at my disposal. Reporters should not be in the business of following rules (other than the law) and opinion polls. The reporter and the soldier (whatever the actual mix was) appear ultimately to have had a good idea, executed it well, and I frankly don't care with whom the soldier spoke before asking the question. That's the business of the soldier and whoever spoke with him, the reporter included. The soldier had the right to ask the question and asking it in the end was his decision, no one else's, so it appears.
Would I have disclosed the earlier conversation in the final story? Yes, because I think it is interesting, not because I think it is needed.
See this cartoon in the Christian Science Monitor from 10 Dec 2004.