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(This story began here.)
We threw our gear in. We climbed aboard. As the roar of engines increased and the rotors spun faster and blurred we sat down, strapped in, and arranged our gear at our feet. The gunners took their positions, checked their weapons. The pitch of the engines changed again and we lurched upwards and forward in a swirl of dust that was quickly blown away by the ever-gusting wind.
The ground dropped away and with a final rooftop view of nowhere we were over the wire and on our way home.
Ulysses S Grant on seeing the white flags of surrender over Vicksburg:
It was a glorious sight to officers and soldiers on the line where these white flags were visible, and the news soon spread to all parts of the command. The troops felt that their long and weary marches, hard fighting, ceaseless watching by night and day, in a hot climate, exposure to all sorts of weather, to diseases and, worst of all, to the gibes of many Northern papers that came to them saying all their suffering was in vain, that Vicksburg would never be taken, were at last at an end and the Union sure to be saved.- Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant
The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and we were thunder moving through clear skies.
Howard Kurtz plugs his new book, and praises the American media for their role in swaying public opinion of the war in Iraq:
"They still have the biggest media megaphone. 25 million combined viewers a night. And that becomes very important on the outside game, as you refer to, when you talk about, for example, the coverage of the war in Iraq. I believe that these newscasts in 2005 and 2006 played the biggest single role in helping to turn public opinion against the war."
Cuomo: "And I think you really have a unique brand of intelligence in this book about this. It's easy to say, 'Oh, well. The war was unpopular. People were looking for the unpopularity of it. At some point, the networks gave that to them.' But you have a more penetrating look at it. You take a look at it in terms of the role of the nightly newscasts in shaping the ideas about the news, even though we had the internet, even though we had the cables upon us at that time. Why do you believe that?"
Kurtz: "Well, we're drowning in information but somebody has to sort it out. So, when it came to the war, despite enormous pressure from the administration that said to the media, 'You folks in the media are being too negative. You're distorting the picture.' We had brave correspondents bringing us the carnage night after night, into our living rooms, what was going none Iraq. And you had the anchors framing the story in such a way that it really punched through.
I had the front row center seat. This allows a great view forward and out the windows to each side where the door gunners scan the ground as we fly.
But remember that wind I mentioned previously? Consider this: If it's blowing about 30 -40 miles an hour at the surface, this usually means it's blowing 40-50 mph (or more) at 200-2000 feet up. And if you are flying at a very fast speed into the wind it means you are experiencing your speed plus the wind speed on the nose of the aircraft. It slows your progress, and does other interesting things - such as making the helicopter fishtail like a weather vane (in fact, ever noticed the similarity in general shape between a helo and a wind bird? I have...) or abruptly drop a few feet without warning. We professionals call this 'turbulence', and you've probably experienced it in airplanes, but it's a different experience in a helo…
Last week was the one-year anniversary of our discovery and release of al Qaeda's "Working Paper for a Media Invasion of America"
You probably haven't heard much about the efforts of the Global Islamic Media Front - al Qaeda's "public relations" team. The group is well known to those who monitor terrorist web sites, but rarely reported on by the mainstream media.Targets listed included US discussion forums and chat rooms, well known newspapers and magazines, American TV channels with web sites, and US authors.
But another recent effort from the group won't likely be reported anywhere in the western media - at least not directly. Titled "Working Paper for a Media Invasion of America", the recently translated document was originally posted on a known jihaddist web site, but has received scant public attention from its target audience. No full translations of the treatise are currently available, but a brief description of some of the content can be seen here.
Najd al-Rawi, the document's author, begins by noting that although they've been successful in many ways, the jihaddists haven't fully exploited the opportunities presented by the US media. Inspired by a video from bin Laden addressing the American people with subtitles in English, the author notes that "It seemed the Shayk wanted to send a clear message to his brother mujahadeen to pay more attention to this part of the mission." He points out that videos from the "Shayks of jihad" are in great demand in the western media.
Suggested projects include English translations of the declarations of the Shayks of Jihad "to throw fear into the American people's hearts".
Lastly, the paper points out what the author considers the best locations for providing this material, and suggests dissemination via the world wide web, following efforts to ensure the origin can't be traced.
One particular author al Qaeda thought would be sympathetic to their efforts was New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who obtained a copy shortly after our report:
The jihadists follow our politics much more closely than people realize. A friend at the Pentagon just sent me a post by the “Global Islamic Media Front” carried by the jihadist Web site Ana al-Muslim on Aug. 11.But if a group of bloodthirsty religious zealots slaughtering women and children in a campaign to undo five hundred years of world progress thought they would be aided by a New York Times columnist eager to be their bestest little bitch, well...
…the Web site suggests that jihadists flood e-mail and video of their operations to “chat rooms,” “television channels,” and to “famous U.S. authors who have public e-mail addresses ... such as Friedman, Chomsky, Fukuyama, Huntington and others.” This is the first time I’ve ever been on the same mailing list with Noam Chomsky.
They were right:
It would be depressing to see the jihadists influence our politics with a Tet-like media/war frenzy. But there are only two reasons now for the U.S. to remain in Iraq: because it thinks that staying will make things better or that leaving will make things drastically worse. Alas, it is increasingly hard to see how our presence is making things better. Iraq, under our nose, is breaking apart into so many little pieces that no political solution seems to be in the offing, because no Iraqi leader can deliver his faction anymore -- and there does not seem to be an Iraqi center capable of coming together. While leaving would no doubt exacerbate the civil war, staying in Iraq indefinitely to prevent even more Shiites and Sunnis from killing one another is not going to fly with the U.S. public much longer.As I said even before his enthusiastic response,
Bob Woodward quoted Bush as saying that he will not leave Iraq, even if the only ones still supporting him are his wife, Laura, and his dog Barney. If the jihadist Tet offensive continues gaining momentum, Bush may be left with just Barney.
And in that we see both the political savvy and naiveté of the Global Islamic Media Front. They recognize the advantage - and relative ease - of turning as many Americans against their President as they can (dividing the enemy into opposing camps to be eliminated in turn being a primary goal of effective propaganda) but fail to grasp the idea that this requires no effort on their part whatsoever. Still - you can't blame them for being willing to accelerate the process, or contribute to the cause.
But on we went. A fair wind to our backs would have been preferable, but a headwind was our lot. And as far as turbulence goes, it really wasn't that bad - but it was on the edge of where I would be concerned (for instance, if the pilots had donned parachutes…). But as we pushed ever onwards the pilots kept checking maps - which is a good thing, I suppose, but I couldn't help but wonder how much our course had altered due to the shifting winds.
The trip was mostly over open desert, with a few houses here and there. But once we got a bit closer to Baghdad and away from that open desert the winds began to die down, and the ride became a bit smoother. Later, however, I would learn that someone shot at another helo (no one hurt) near a spot we overflew shortly after we passed. Generally this means door gunners get to do their thing, but such instances are rare, and no opportunity presented itself to us this day.
And onward we flew…
Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez (US Army, Ret):
This is the worst display of journalism imaginable by those of us that are bound by a strict value system of selfless service, honor and integrity. Almost invariably, my perception is that the sensationalistic value of these assessments is what provided the edge that you seek for self aggrandizement or to advance your individual quest for getting on the front page with your stories! as I understand it, your measure of worth is how many front page stories you have written and unfortunately some of you will compromise your integrity and display questionable ethics as you seek to keep America informed... For some, it seems that as long as you get a front page story there is little or no regard for the "collateral damage" you will cause.That story sure got some headlines. And here they are…
Given the near instantaneous ability to report actions on the ground, the responsibility to accurately and truthfully report takes on an unprecedented importance. The speculative and often uninformed initial reporting that characterizes our media appears to be rapidly becoming the standard of the industry. An Arab proverb states - "Four things come not back: the spoken word, the spent arrow, the past, the neglected opportunity." Once reported, your assessments become conventional wisdom and nearly impossible to change. Other major challenges are your willingness to be manipulated by "high level officials" who leak stories and by lawyers who use hyperbole to strengthen their arguments. Your unwillingness to accurately and prominently correct your mistakes and your agenda driven biases contribute to this corrosive environment. All of these challenges combined create a media environment that does a tremendous disservice to America. Over the course of this war tactically insignificant events have become strategic defeats for America because of the tremendous power and impact of the media and by extension you the journalist. In many cases the media has unjustly destroyed the individual reputations and careers of those involved. We realize that because of the near real time reporting environment that you face it is difficult to report accurately. In my business one of our fundamental truths is that "the first report is always wrong." Unfortunately, in your business "the first report" gives Americans who rely on the snippets of CNN, if you will, their "truths" and perspectives on an issue. As a corollary to this deadline driven need to publish "initial impressions or observations" versus objective facts there is an additional challenge for us who are the subject of your reporting. When you assume that you are correct and on the moral high ground on a story because we have not respond to questions you provided is the ultimate arrogance and distortion of ethics. One of your highly respected fellow journalists once told me that there are some amongst you who "feed from a pig's trough." If that is who I am dealing with then I will never respond otherwise we will both get dirty and the pig will love it. This does not mean that your story is accurate.
The basic ethics of a journalist that calls for:
1. seeking truth,
2. providing fair and comprehensive account of events and issues
3. thoroughness and honesty
All are victims of the massive agenda driven competition for economic or political supremacy. The death knell of your ethics has been enabled by your parent organizations who have chosen to align themselves with political agendas. What is clear to me is that you are perpetuating the corrosive partisan politics that is destroying our country and killing our servicemembers who are at war.
My assessment is that your profession, to some extent, has strayed from these ethical standards and allowed external agendas to manipulate what the American public sees on TV, what they read in our newspapers and what they see on the web. For some of you, just like some of our politicians, the truth is of little to no value if it does not fit your own preconceived notions, biases and agendas.
The New York Times:
Ex-Commander Says Iraq Effort Is ‘a Nightmare’The Washington Post:
In a sweeping indictment of the four-year effort in Iraq, the former top commander of American forces there called the Bush administration’s handling of the war “incompetent” and said the result was “a nightmare with no end in sight.”
Ex-Commander In Iraq Faults War StrategyThe Associated Press:
'No End in Sight,' Says Retired General Sanchez
Retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who led U.S. forces in Iraq for a year after the March 2003 invasion, accused the Bush administration yesterday of going to war with a "catastrophically flawed" plan and said the United States is "living a nightmare with no end in sight."
Ex-general: Iraq `nightmare' for US
ARLINGTON, Va. - The U.S. mission in Iraq is a "nightmare with no end in sight" because of political misjudgments after the fall of Saddam Hussein that continue today, a former chief of U.S.-led forces said Friday.
The trip seemed endless, but the closer we came to Baghdad the smoother and faster the ride. Then we began to drop altitude as we approached our destination. And as our distance from the ground decreased the temperature increased. It's actually nice and comfortable (temperature wise) at altitude, even when decked out in helmets and armor. But drop towards the surface and sweat starts to flow.
And damned if hours of wearing armor - the last bit of which was spent strapped and immobilized and bouncing in a helo - wasn't starting to make my back ache just a bit...
Lt Gen Sanchez describes journalists:
My assessment is that your profession, to some extent, has strayed from these ethical standards and allowed external agendas to manipulate what the American public sees on TV, what they read in our newspapers and what they see on the web. For some of you, just like some of our politicians, the truth is of little to no value if it does not fit your own preconceived notions, biases and agendas.Journalists agree:
"I believe that these newscasts in 2005 and 2006 played the biggest single role in helping to turn public opinion against the war."And still more journalists agree:
"So, when it came to the war, despite enormous pressure from the administration that said to the media, 'You folks in the media are being too negative. You're distorting the picture.' We had brave correspondents bringing us the carnage night after night, into our living rooms, what was going none Iraq. And you had the anchors framing the story in such a way that it really punched through."
CHARLES GIBSON, ABC ANCHOR: The U.S. military reports the fourth straight month of decline in troop deaths, 66 American troops died in September, each a terrible tragedy for a family, but the number far less than those who died in August. And the Iraqi government says
civilian deaths across Iraq fell by half last month.
KURTZ: Joining us now to put this into perspective, Robin Wright, who covers national security for The Washington Post. And CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
Robin Wright, should that decline in Iraq casualties have gotten more media attention?
ROBIN WRIGHT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Not necessarily. The fact is we're at the beginning of a trend -- and it's not even sure that it is a trend yet. There is also an enormous dispute over how to count the numbers. There are different kinds of deaths in Iraq.
KURTZ: Barbara Starr, CNN did mostly quick reads by anchors of these numbers. There was a taped report on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." Do you think this story deserved more attention? We don't know whether it is a trend or not but those are intriguing numbers.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: But that's the problem, we don't know whether it is a trend about specifically the decline in the number of U.S. troops being killed in Iraq. This is not enduring progress.
KURTZ: But let's say that the figures had shown that casualties were going up for U.S. soldiers and going up for Iraqi civilians. I think that would have made some front pages.
STARR: Oh, I think inevitably it would have. I mean, that's certainly -- that, by any definition, is news.
We first touched down at a stop before mine, but it was a short hop to the end of the line. Everyone else got out there though - and no one else boarded, so I had a helo to myself.
So I assume we're about to head for the next stop, where I'll hop out too, but the gunner turns to me and I notice his lips are moving - he's trying to communicate with me.
IT IS VERY FREAKING NOISY IN A HELICOPTER AND I HAVE EAR PLUGS STUCK IN ALMOST TO MY TONSILS, but I figure if he wants to chat I can pop one out. He's been in radio contact with the pilots, of course, and they are prepared to make me an offer…
Let's return to a simpler time, when America wasn't the divided nation we know today.
Once again, from the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant:
Even during this march of Sherman's the newspapers in his front were proclaiming daily that his army was nothing better than a mob of men who were frightened out of their wits and hastening, panic-stricken, to try to get under the cover of our navy for protection against the Southern people.Of course, he was referencing papers published by his enemy...
The Southern papers in commenting upon Sherman's movements pictured him as in the most deplorable condition: stating that his men were starving, that they were demoralized and wandering about almost without object, aiming only to reach the sea coast and get under the protection of our navy. These papers got to the North and had more or less effect upon the minds of the people, causing much distress to all loyal persons particularly to those who had husbands, sons or brothers with Sherman.
As was General Sherman, in his own memoirs:
At Milledgeville [Georgia] we found newspapers from all the South, and learned the consternation which had filled the Southern mind at our temerity; many charging that we were actually fleeing for our lives and seeking safety at the hands of our fleet on the sea-coast.Later, however,
Judging from the tone of the Southern press of that day, the outside world must have supposed us ruined and lost.
Thousands who had been deceived by their lying newspapers to believe that we were being whipped all the time now realize the truth...Perhaps it will always be so.
General Sherman summarized his thoughts on reporters thusly:
Newspaper correspondents with an army, as a rule, are mischievous. They are the world's gossips, pick up and retail the camp scandal, and gradually drift to the headquarters of some general, who finds it easier to make reputation at home than with his own corps or division. They are also tempted to prophesy events and state facts which, to an enemy, reveal a purpose in time to guard against it. Moreover, they are always bound to see facts colored by the partisan or political character of their own patrons, and thus bring army officers into the political controversies of the day, which are always mischievous and wrong. Yet, so greedy are the people at large for war news, that it is doubtful whether any army commander can exclude all reporters, without bringing down on himself a clamor that may imperil his own safety. Time and moderation must bring a just solution to this modern difficulty.How much time? The only certain answer is that 140 years has not been enough.
For Lt Gen Sanchez struggles with it, too:
There is no question in my mind that the strength our democracy and our freedoms remain linked to your ability to exercise freedom of the press - I adamantly support this basic foundation of our democracy and completely supported the embedding of media into our formations up until my last day in uniform. The issue is one of maintaining professional ethics and standards from within your institution.And while also frustrated by a seemingly adversarial relationship, General Grant would go out of his way to assist a reporter in need - as evidenced by this story from his memoirs:
A few days before my departure from Culpeper the Honorable E. B. Washburne visited me there, and remained with my headquarters for some distance south, through the battle in the Wilderness and, I think, to Spottsylvania. He was accompanied by a Mr. Swinton, whom he presented as a literary gentleman who wished to accompany the army with a view of writing a history of the war when it was over. He assured me--and I have no doubt Swinton gave him the assurance--that he was not present as a correspondent of the press. I expressed an entire willingness to have him (Swinton) accompany the army, and would have allowed him to do so as a correspondent, restricted, however, in the character of the information he could give. We received Richmond papers with about as much regularity as if there had been no war, and knew that our papers were received with equal regularity by the Confederates. It was desirable, therefore, that correspondents should not be privileged spies of the enemy within our lines.I expect there was a bit of inner turmoil involved - but if so, the General (like most) chose not to divulge the details.
Probably Mr. Swinton expected to be an invited guest at my headquarters, and was disappointed that he was not asked to become so. At all events he was not invited, and soon I found that he was corresponding with some paper (I have now forgotten which one), thus violating his word either expressed or implied. He knew of the assurance Washburne had given as to the character of his mission. I never saw the man from the day of our introduction to the present that I recollect. He accompanied us, however, for a time at least.
The second night after crossing the Rapidan (the night of the 5th of May) Colonel W. R. Rowley, of my staff, was acting as night officer at my headquarters. A short time before midnight I gave him verbal instructions for the night. Three days later I read in a Richmond paper a verbatim report of these instructions.
A few nights still later (after the first, and possibly after the second, day's fighting in the Wilderness) General Meade came to my tent for consultation, bringing with him some of his staff officers. Both his staff and mine retired to the camp-fire some yards in front of the tent, thinking our conversation should be private. There was a stump a little to one side, and between the front of the tent and camp-fire. One of my staff, Colonel T. S. Bowers, saw what he took to be a man seated on the ground and leaning against the stump, listening to the conversation between Meade and myself. He called the attention of Colonel Rowley to it. The latter immediately took the man by the shoulder and asked him, in language more forcible than polite, what he was doing there. The man proved to be Swinton, the "historian," and his replies to the question were evasive and unsatisfactory, and he was warned against further eaves-dropping.
The next I heard of Mr. Swinton was at Cold Harbor. General Meade came to my headquarters saying that General Burnside had arrested Swinton, who at some previous time had given great offence, and had ordered him to be shot that afternoon. I promptly ordered the prisoner to be released, but that he must be expelled from the lines of the army not to return again on pain of punishment.
In fact, most Generals are adept at careful phrasing and masters of nuanced communications. Perhaps that's why this quote attributed to Sherman tops them all:
"I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are. If I killed them all there would be news from Hell before breakfast."
It IS VERY FREAKING NOISY IN A HELICOPTER AND I HAVE EAR PLUGS STUCK IN ALMOST TO MY TONSILS, but I figure if he wants to chat I can pop one out. I do. He's been in radio contact with the pilots, of course, and they are prepared to make me an offer.
"If you can spare 30 minutes, we can show you some of Baghdad."
Knowing me, you predict I would reply...
a. "Oh no. I promised my wife and mom and kids I would never take any unnecessary risks. Take me somewhere safe and drop me off henceforth, and waste not one more moment of my time!"
b. "Let's do it." with a freaking ear to ear grin as minor back pain suddenly disappears in an obvious message from God.
Answer in part three.
"Knowing me, you predict I would reply"
So true, so true...some journalists and some major newspapers/TV news/Cable today are in truth the same as those during the Civil War. Biased, political and for most part untruthful, and flat out wrong. Sherman, my hero give them hell...Sanchez, well that was one truthful statement of the media, bravoPosted by Rita at October 15, 2007 06:20 PM
Awesome.Posted by Stankleberry at October 15, 2007 06:26 PM
A or B....A or B....such agony of indecision...
:0)Posted by Holly at October 15, 2007 06:51 PM
a New York Times columnist eager to be their bestest little bitch...
And the answer is B, of course.Posted by MaryAnn at October 15, 2007 10:17 PM
So I am not the only one to tote Grant's Memoirs to the sandbox.Posted by Cannoneer No. 4 at October 16, 2007 03:03 PM
Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 10/16/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.
Pat Dollard managed to buttenhole a "top executive" at Fox and got Part A of the Sanchez statement some print and airtime.
Talk about an existence proof of Sanchez' accusations!
And your decision, I expect, was C: "Well, maybe 15 minutes, if you promise to fly safely!"