Thursday, October 26, 2006


Soldier Voices Part Two

(A continuation from Soldier Voices Part One, also excerpted at Milblogs.)

In Soldier Voices Part One, I reported that I have been mulling over diverse viewpoints of both supporters and opponents of our efforts in Iraq. I am concerns over feedback from boots really on the ground, lower ranking enlisted soldiers and officers. In the midst of these reflections, I came across another kind of viewpoint, that of an embedded journalist.

Blackfive links, as I did, to Michael Yon’s piece on censorship and Michael Fumento’s piece on embedding. His links prompted journalist and veteran Carl Prine, to dismiss Fumento’s reporting as ill-informed, contrasting Fumento with Yon, who’s inability to get embedded Prine views as a shame (as do we all).

Prine was a Veteran Marine, then an investigative reporter, who after 9/11, re-enlisted as an Infantryman (MOS 11B). Those facts alone must make Prine almost unique within his profession. He’s a prize winner to be sure, no doubt tenacious, and quite skilled as a reporter.

Why do I dwell on these details? Not anything particular to his comments, he’s been previously critical of Yon, dismissing his work as poorly written and edited, in much the same way he criticizes Fumento.

Full disclaimer: I have criticized the work of Yon in the past for similar faults, but I greatly admire his dedication and commitment, and figure we should cut all kinds of slack to anybody who is trying to get Iraq reported honestly, first person. I also give anybody with that much enthusiasm and motivation the benefit of the doubt that they will learn, and improve. According to Prine, that’s how he now feels about Yon, “now cresting as a reporter.”

Prine didn’t stop with there, but adds that he views Yon’s recent reporting from Afghanistan has been “gloomy”but prescient:

Yon's piece is far more persuasive. He's grown into his job and has become a very impressive critic of both the press and the military. His writing from Afghanistan was some of the best that conflict has produced and let's mark it as prescient because his gloomy forecasts likely will come true.

Other commenters on the threat remark that Prine’s opinion of Yon surely improves to the degree that Yon is critical of the military. The threat degenerates for a time into a sparring session between Prine and host Blackfive.

One gets the impression these two have some prior history. Interestingly, in the course of their back and forth – won on volume perhaps by Prine, but without much response to Blackfive’s rebuttals on Fumento – they reveal that the Military Reporters & Editors Convention starts today (10/26) in Evanston, IL. Looks like Blackfive and Prine will attend, and Prine reports that Yon is speaking on Saturday, October 28th, along with Bill Roggio. Keynote addresses include Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post and Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, KS.

I tend to do searches on people of controversy these days – call me paranoid, suspicious of people’s motives, or just plain under-self-utilized – and found out Prine has a history of run-ins with other MILBLOGGERS, whom I believe Prine has less respect for than he would formal mainstream media (MSM) journalists.

Apparently, his prior criticisms of Yon raised some objection from fellow MILBLOGGER Chapomatic, who likewise engaged Prine in extended debate (and sparring). I’ve found Prine injecting his criticisms elsewhere in the blogosphere. Prine’s willingness to opine, and his tendency to elevate with praise MSM practitioners over the less than professional MILBLOGGERS, no doubt irritates many MILBLOGGERS.

Prine doesn’t dwell at all on his own perceptions of the situation in Iraq, although his reference to Yon and Yon’s discouragement over Afghanistan yield some clues as to Prine’s opinion.

Chapomatic quoted Prine’s summary objection to Yon’s work:

It’s good for what it is, but he’s not the best writer and his writing suffers from what every junior on the circuit experiences — the “soda straw” effect. That’s no rap on him, just a fact. He’s good for an entertaining look at a slice of life, but not a fuller picture.

Which closely parallels my own reservations about most MSM reporting on Iraq, and even the assessments of many of our own Intel Analysts. (See, again, my previous Patterns of Analysis for more in-depth discussion.)

The soda-straw effect. Of course, I don’t quite see what steps practitioners within the MSM take to avoid or prevent reporting through that soda-straw. Seems to me, that’s exactly the point Fumento was making in his piece, however unskillfully.

Perhaps Prine considers all that “environmental” and subjective commentary the MSM is so good (the Associated Press in particular) one great big gulp and swallow, in contrast. You recognize the standard TemplateTM it when you read it:

Amid worsening violence in Iraq and widespread calls for withdrawal from all sides politically, President Bush stubbornly insisted today that we will “stay the course,” regardless of how hopeless the situation grows.

Call it your standard Anti-war lead paragraph. (Or anti-Bush, depending on the context.)

Chapomatic has a more fundamental objection to Prine’s stance on “amateur reporters”:

The most important thing I see Prine misunderstanding is that this is an information war*. Prine talks about “illuminating his (the soldier’s) experience” and “preserving his moment in history”–but also important is “maintaining the national will to win”. The other side is using our open society to attack and kill us. They are using media to get what they want, change minds, recruit. They understand how to manipulate public opinion, and why the VC’s Giap was so successful in attacking our “national will” center of gravity. Our press has guys like Seymour Hersh trolling for any bad story he can find–no matter how untruthful or damaging–and a culture that often despises the military’s belief system and modus operandi. (Strong word? You should hear what I hear at the J-schools, from the midshipmen, from the journalists.) This is a fight to the death against an ideological foe, and the battlefields include public opinion. “Objectivity”, a fake sense of moral superiority, and facile “blood and circuses” misdirection on what matters in the long term most emphatically does not cut it.

I can’t find disagreement here with Chap. This is the heart of the Media War, and I wish we had more brave and aggressive guys like Prine willing “to enlist.” And I’d hope too, that Prine would at times consider, at least more consciously than I think he does, that his ability to report as he does, where he does, in the manner he does, is in large measure because of the freedoms he himself has fought to protect, and that those freedoms are in real jeopardy from enemies who will use every report, and every reporter, in its arsenal against us. They have found the Democratic equivalent to Lenin’s prognosis for Capitalism:

"The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them."

Only in this case, the radical Islamic terrorists use the critical and anti-government voices of the “free press” to implement their aims against the forces of democracy.

Having said all of that, let me conclude, again with Chap:

Prine, however, is putting his money where his mouth is. He took a pay cut and enlisted. I don’t know why he thought it was the best approach, but he is doing the hard thing. I only wish I felt that more of his comrades in the press were as willing to serve alongside us, either reporting, or fighting.

Ahem to that.

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