Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Media Warriors

Michael Fumento has got himself back into Iraq, and posts this report about reportage.

If you aren’t familiar with the man, here’s a blurb and link from his website:

Michael Fumento is a veteran of the 27th Engineer Brigade (Combat) (Airborne) and has been embedded three times in the western Iraqi region of Al Anbar. Read Michael Fumento's additional writing on the military, on Iraq, and on the media, and view his Spring 2006 Iraq photos from both the Fallujah area and Ramadi. View his 2005 Iraq photos.

So he’s an experienced embed, a veteran, and intimately familiar with the situation in Iraq generally, what goes on with our military, and how an embedded journalist can get the difficult job of reporting from Iraq.

Another independent journalist, Michael Yon, as well as leading MILBLOGGERS Greyhawk and Blackfive have recently strongly criticized the US Department of Defense (DoD) officials and military officers, for worrisome signs that key leaders in our war against Global terrorism and its practitioners, just don’t get the Media War or new media operations. All valid concerns, all rightful criticisms.

And yet, the journalists, their editors and publishers, and even the reading and viewing public share some responsibility in the poor state of journalism dealing with and in Iraq. Fumento offers some revealing insights, about the reporters “Hiding Out in Baghdad”:

It’s not fair to say the hotel-dwellers never leave their safe and comfy confines. “Despite the danger, Nancy [Youssef, Knight Ridder bureau chief] and her colleagues do venture out and do find inventive ways to talk with ordinary Iraqis,” then–Knight Ridder D.C. bureau chief Clark Hoyt wrote in a column. He explained that Nancy says, “When I go grocery shopping, I listen to people’s conversations. What are they talking about?” So this is what passes for “war correspondence” of the Baghdad Brigade.

Even journalists sympathetic to the Baghdad press corps admit they essentially just hide out. Here’s how The New York Review of Books put it last April: “The bitter truth is that doing any kind of work outside these American fortified zones has become so dangerous for foreigners as to be virtually suicidal. More and more journalists find themselves hunkered down inside whatever bubbles of refuge they have managed to create in order to insulate themselves from the lawlessness outside.” Unless you accept “insulation” as a synonym for “reporting,” this doesn’t speak well of the hotel denizens.

Other reporters have been less generous. The London Independent’s Robert Fisk has written of “hotel journalism,” while former Washington Post Bureau Chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran has called it “journalism by remote control.” More damningly, Maggie O’Kane of the British newspaper The Guardian said: “We no longer know what is going on, but we are pretending we do.” Ultimately, they can’t even cover Baghdad yet they pretend they can cover Ramadi.

Perhaps somewhat less so than in America, but I seriously question the value of any tidbits of information one picks up at the local farmers mart or bazaar in Baghdad.

Fumento contrasts the hiding out of some, with the risk-taking and arguably more dedicated and serious reporting done by others:

What leads the embeds into the most dangerous parts of Iraq is the glaring gap between the reality of the war and the virtuality emanating from the hotels of the IZ. One of them made this point quite forcefully in a recent column. Jerry Newberry, communications director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a Vietnam Army vet, wrote in a September column just before heading off for Afghanistan and then Iraq: “For the most part, the wars being fought by our people in Afghanistan and Iraq — their successes, heroism, and valor — [are] reported by some overpaid, makeup-wearing talking heads, sitting on their fat rear-ends in an air-conditioned hotel. They rely on Iraqi stringers to bring the stuff to them and then call it reporting.”

Newberry’s bravery and dedication are to be saluted, but as a combat vet he has advantages. So did I, as a veteran paratrooper (on my first trip) and a combat veteran (by the end of my second). Michael Yon, famed for his blog and award-winning photos of his nine-month embed with the infantry in Iraq is a former Green Beret. Writer and historian Andrew Lubin, a Fallujah-bound embed I met while getting credentialed on this trip, is a former Marine who goes to the rifle range twice monthly.

But Patrick Dollard, with no military training, left a cushy job as Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh’s agent to bunk down with Marines in Ramadi for seven months to film a documentary series (still being edited) that he hopes will show the real war and the real warriors.

In February, a Humvee he was traveling in hit a massive IED, which shredded the vehicle and killed two of the three Marines aboard. Dollard was injured and hospitalized. But he had a mission, and was quickly back on the job. The next month, another IED blast injured him, less seriously. Then . . . right back to work. Dollard’s experiences alone put the Baghdad press corps to shame. But he insisted to me that exchanging Hollywood for a hellhole wasn’t as hard as you’d imagine. “I had to feel the moral imperative to go, and clearly I did feel it,” he said.

The sad truth is that the mainstream media have no interest in covering the Iraq War for what it is, observes Dollard. He says they are interested in Iraq only so far as it is useful as a weapon against their self-imagined mortal political enemy, George W. Bush. The embeds, however, want the real picture — and we want to tell the truth about it to the world.

These soldiers possess and skillfully deploy the eyes, ears, minds, intellects, passions, and word processors that are the force multipliers in the Media War.

It is perhaps not surprising that mainstream media (MSM) mistrusts, dismisses, or resents these new media operatives encroaching on their turf.

It is unfathomable why DoD would view them the same way.

(Via Memeorandum)

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