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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

 

Covering Iraq:The Modern Way of War Correspondence

Reporting from the war from a distance by Michael Fumento:
Ramadi, Iraq
Would you trust a Hurricane Katrina report datelined “direct from Detroit”? Or coverage of the World Trade Center attack from Chicago? Why then should we believe a Time Magazine investigation of the Haditha killings that was reported not from Haditha but from Baghdad? Or a Los Angeles Times article on a purported Fallujah-like attack on Ramadi reported by four journalists in Baghdad and one in Washington? Yet we do, essentially because we have no choice. A war in a country the size of California is essentially covered from a single city. Plug the name of Iraqi cities other than Baghdad into Google News and you’ll find that time and again the reporters are in Iraq’s capital, nowhere near the scene. Capt. David Gramling, public affairs officer for the unit I’m currently embedded with, puts it nicely: “I think it would be pretty hard to report on Baghdad from out here.” Welcome to the not-so-brave new world of Iraq war correspondence.

Vietnam was the first war to give us reporting in virtually real time. Iraq is the first to give us virtual reporting. That doesn’t necessarily make it biased against the war; it does make it biased against the truth.

[snip]
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.

[snip]
Yet the glaring gap between the reality of the Iraq war and the virtuality from the hotels and IZ is what leads embeds to go to the most dangerous places in Iraq and Afghanistan on their own dime.

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.”

[snip]
Yet embeds perform a service beyond just their willingness to see combat, and to describe accurately the specific events they witness. “Although some journalism professors may worry that military embedding is subverting the media, I would argue the contrary,” Robert Kaplan wrote in The Atlantic Monthly. Kaplan, who has been embedded all over the world, went on to observe, “The Columbia Journalism Review recently ran an article about the worrisome gap between a wealthy media establishment and ordinary working Americans. One solution is embedding, which offers the media perhaps their last, best chance to reconnect with much of the society they claim to be a part of.”

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