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August 31, 2004
Is There Any Good News?By Greyhawk
Sig Christenson, San Antonio Express-News military writer, offers a long (but well worth reading) editorial in which he struggles to come to grips with the shifting relationship between the media and the military
A familiar Iraqi street scene plays out on a flat-screen TV in the office of the U.S. Central Command's No. 2 man here.
Between occasional attempts at balance, the piece seems to lurch back and forth between an enthusiastic defense of the media position and a rather meager attempt to deflect blame for any disconnect to the highest levels in the Pentagon. Perhaps oblivious to his own shortsightedness, the author doesn't hesitate to espouse the Iraq quagmire and Rumsfeld bad mantra that is likely the core of the complaint that so many in my profession would lodge against so many in his.
Embedding reporters with troops was a great step toward repairing a strained relationship between the media and military that dated to the Vietnam War. But the natural friction between journalists and the military has risen as the lightning invasion has morphed into a quagmire. <...> Smith, Central Command's deputy chief, is weary of the Western media's focus on terrorist bombings, insurgent attacks and the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. Such reports overshadow a "vibrant" economy in Baghdad, a city that has "an awful lot of activity that's positive." <...> As he sat in his office July 8, after a two-day tour of Iraq with Express-News photographer Ed Ornelas and myself, Smith complained that Western media were still focused on Abu Ghraib.
But in the minds of many, Abu Ghraib is now about one thing and one thing only - getting Rummy - and it is (artificially) divorced from the situation on the ground in Iraq. The lust for the secdef is revealed in later passages:
..."At the Pentagon, there is a lot of bad blood between the Army and the office of the secretary of defense, and that makes reporting difficult. Also, many senior officers have the perception that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and those around him don't want generals to talk to reporters."
Now if anyone can provide an example of anything the Pentagon tried to "blame" on the media, I'd truly like to see the quote. The more I read of this, the more I wonder about what drove it - has the failure of the press become so catastrophic? Has the desire to paint a picture so detrimental to the current administration now completely overwhelmed objectivity, restraint, and judgment of the average reporter, to the point that truth has become a casualty of a war - the war being fought in America, for votes?
It's convenient for the Bush administration and its supporters to make journalists the object of scorn for flawed policies and an obvious failure to do their homework. It is especially convenient to do so in an election year.
But if he's truly interested in finding the source of mistrust that military commanders may harbor for reporters, he may want to look to Baghdad '03 before accusing Washington '04:
Wesley had been monitoring BBC radio that morning to find out how the news of the thunder run was playing. He had listened to Mohammed Said al-Sahaf, Iraq's bombastic information minister, deliver a taunting news conference at the Palestine Hotel on the east bank of the Tigris, just six kilometers from where Robert Ball had made the wrong turn off the spaghetti junction. Sahaf claimed that no American forces had entered the city and that Iraqi troops had slaughtered hundreds of American "scoundrels" at the airport.
Then later, in the mission briefing:
Perkins mentioned Sahaf, the information minister. He had to admit it - he was becoming obsessed with that cocky little functionary in his military costume and ridiculous beret. Perkins didn't want to spin his own lies and propaganda. He just wanted the truth to get out. "So we're going to the back of the room where they give the news conferences and ask a couple questions - and ask for validation for parking for a hundred tanks, " he said.
Thunder Run, again.
Of course we all laughed at "Baghdad Bob" - but the reality was that Iraqi citizens out the next day under cover of nothing but a false sense of security were caught in a cross fire and never made it back home.
I certainly wouldn't want to be accused of blaming the media, but how many died as a result of reporting like this?:
SADDAM HUSSEIN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT - So where are the Americans? I prowled the empty departure lounges, mooched through the abandoned customs department, chatted to the seven armed militia guards, met the airport director and stood beside the runways where two dust-covered Iraqi Airways passenger jets -- an old 727 and an even more elderly Antonov -- stood forlornly on the runway not far from an equally decrepit military helicopter.
The shooting and bad reporting continues to this day. Lets forgive the generals if they decline to offer any intrepid reporter their full and complete trust. We'll assume their motives are something beyond the story.
That Mr. Christensen seems to think the discussion is one of politics, vice human lives, is an interesting revelation in and of itself.
Posted by Greyhawk / August 31, 2004 11:03 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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