Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Media and the War

I received an email today forwarded from an Army officer and colleague of mine currently in Iraq, decrying the media's coverage of the situation there. As luck would have it, I also read an excellent commentary piece this morning by Jack Kelly on the same subject.

The officer in Iraq believes that the American press, the fourth estate, has failed egregiously in its reporting on the war, especially of late. He writes in his email, comparing current media coverage to that of wars past,

Anyone remember Casserine Pass? Cisterna? The escape of the German main force from Sicily? The devastation of the Murmansk convoys? Tarawa? New Guinea? The failure to capture a major French port until weeks after D-Day? Were these openly portrayed in the papers as disasters that should cause us to lose faith in the government? We had a totally false picture of the status of the Nazi Nuclear program, the major factor behind our own urgency to develop the H-bomb - mistaken intel about WMD's? when have we heard that before? Certainly WWII was easier to focus on, with a geographically and nationally defined threat, so if anything today we need the best efforts of the politicians and the press put the country first and try to unite us, rather than divide us

Today I watched a CNN report in disgust, as they tried to make sense of a large airmobile operation [Swarmer] in Iraq and intially got the story wrong, then tried to bring on a retired Air Force (?) general to talk about it, all the while running footage of burning M1 tanks and trucks and troops fighting in the streets, clearly file footage from 2003 to an educated observer, but only a fraction of the footage was labeled as such.

Every negative report on our effort, every self-righteous congressional monologue on what wrong we are doing, feeds the enemy hope and makes our lives more difficult and more dangerous. Somewhat discouraging.


My colleague in Iraq is building a bridge too far in expecting American media to see itself as such, and many in the news business would argue he is asking for press that is overly biased toward one side in a conflict (even if that side is our own!).

But in his rough analysis he brought up some excellent points. There were catastrophic setbacks in other wars, especially the disasters he cited during World War II. Yet at no point was there such an unbalanced cacophony of reports that would lead readers/viewers to believe the proverbial sky is falling, as there is today.

The past three weeks have brought nothing but reporting on the likelihood of civil war in Iraq, including frequent polling of Americans on their belief of this occurring. Meanwhile, there has been virtually no balancing coverage of events that could be indicators that Iraq is not on the brink of a civil war. Some Blogs have shown large scale religious events like
pilgrimages that transpired peacefully during this period, and the fact that the Iraqi army is capable enough to conduct an operation like Swarmer (without dissolving completely and forming into sectarian militias), is a visible counter to the monolithic Iraq-in-civil-war drum beaten every day in the press recently.

Another timely complaint brought up in my colleague's email is the media's apparent ignorance of military operations. The United States has been at war continuously for over four years, and yet major media outlets like CNN are unable to distinguish between a strategic air bombing campaign and an Army air assault operation, apples and oranges if there were ever two different things to compare. Ignorance of military forms of maneuver makes it difficult, if not impossible, to analyze why operations are conducted or what fruits are gained by them. Thus, a Time Magazine reporter on the ground hears the words air assault and envisions in his minds eye a conflict on par with the Battle of Bastogne; when the forces are inserted by helicopter and seize their objectives without encountering hostile fire, the reporter lamented that Swarmer "failed to live up to its advanced billing." Meanwhile, no useful analysis is made of the fact that Iraqi soldiers developed the intelligence, planned the mission, and executed Swarmer during a time of "impending civil war" . For shame!

Jack Kelly's article also addressed the media's ignorance of all things military. He takes issue with a prevailing attitude in today's media that correspondents with military experience, or military bloggers (whose experience would seemingly provide insight into how the military operates), are too biased to report accurately:


Consider the implications of this attitude [ that those with military experience are too biased to report on military matters]. Would a reporter who is a lawyer (such as Fox News' Megyn Kendall) be considered biased in covering the courts simply because she actually knows something about the law? Would a reporter who is a doctor (such as CNN's Sanjay Gupta) be considered biased simply because he actually knows something about medicine? Yet news organizations consider it proper to have our wars covered by people who are unclear about from which end of the rifle the round comes.


There are more problems than solutions addressed in this post, unfortunately; I simply don't have all the answers yet to the media's inability to cover the war effectively. But one thing is for certain: the media is failing to provide accurate and in depth reporting of the largest and most important military endeavor undertaken by the United States in the last four decades. This failure of the fourth estate makes it difficult for the American people to properly understand the stakes for America in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Jack Kelly summed up the problem addressed here better than I can in his editorial today. According to Kelly,

Actor and antiwar activist Richard Belzer said he knows more about the war in Iraq than do U.S. servicemen in Iraq because he "reads 20 newspapers a day." But 20 biased, shallow and incomplete accounts don't add up to the truth.
Well Said.

4 comments:

JuliaMazal said...

Especially if all 20 accounts are coming from the same wire service. Just wanted to say thanks for this, it's what I read Wilsonizer for.

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