Skip to comments.New allies on front line: the media, the military
Posted on 03/29/2003 2:45:08 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
Forget the incessant talk of TOW missiles and M-1 tanks and electromagnetic bombs. The most potent weapon in the Pentagon's arsenal in this war so far may be the news media.
Erasing in a single stroke more than three decades of barely controlled mutual hostility, the U.S. military has turned the press into an ally, not just embracing coverage of the war but using it as a major element of its so-called shock-and-awe campaign.
Reversing a long trend of restricting wartime access to military operations, the Pentagon has allowed 600 reporters to travel with American troops -- and the British 100 -- to get a worm's-eye view of the war.
The result: Reporters delighted with their ability to get up close and personal with the war. And coverage that has mostly made the Pentagon and its supporters very happy.
''I think it's been a brilliant strategy, just brilliant,'' says David Hackworth, a much decorated Army commander in Vietnam and later a Newsweek columnist. ``It's worked out for the press, and it's worked out for the military.''
Dramatic footage of firefights and artillery duels has shifted the focus of war coverage away from headquarters briefings that during past wars turned into fractious harangues on both sides.
And its portrayal of a muscular, determined U.S. military has meshed with the Pentagon message to Iraqi generals: Our victory is inevitable. Do not resist.
''The visual images have certainly presented the U.S. and British units as being an extremely powerful force,'' said Jacqueline Sharkey, dean of the journalism department at the University of Arizona and author of Under Fire: U.S. Military Restrictions on the Media from Grenada to the Persian Gulf.
Scenes beamed home by the embedded television correspondents have ranged from the ludicrous (CBS's Julie Chen, her long fingernails painted an immaculate white to match her skin-tight pants, thanking U.S. Marines who ''kept me calm'' during a false alarm of a chemical attack on base in Kuwait) to the frightening (Fox News footage of a Navy SEAL unit's firefight with Iraqi soldiers trying to set an oil field afire).
But the dominating image has been one of military might -- of an army equipped with awesomely powerful weapons and technology, people with brave, determined young men and women who you'd love to have as next-door neighbors.
CNN's Walter Rodgers captured the prevailing mood when he reported from an American tank racing across the desert that he was part of ''a huge wave of steel'' and felt like he was ``galloping inside the belly of a dragon.''
The reports of embedded print journalists, though delayed, have been no less dramatic. A story in the Times of London from a reporter traveling with British commandos recounted how the troops in one Iraqi unit killed all their officers so they could surrender.
And an embedded reporter from London's Guardian wrote of the wild gratitude of Iraqi civilians as British soldiers advanced. ''You're late, what took you so long?'' said one. ``God help you become victorious. I want to say hello to Bush, to shake his hand. We came out of the grave.''
These were exactly the kind of stories U.S. and British war planners were hoping for when they agreed to let reporters travel with the troops -- coverage that would build support for the war back home, worry Iraqi generals monitoring Western television on satellite dishes, and possibly soften the Arab world's opposition to the invasion.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said as much to American news executives when talks began over placing reporters with military units. Rumsfeld thought the single battle U.S. forces lost in Afghanistan in 2001 was the one of public relations.
''Early on, in our first meeting on this issue, the Secretary of Defense said that he had seen what happened in Afghanistan, that he saw news management by the Taliban, that they were good at getting their lies out,'' says Kim Hume, the Washington bureau chief of Fox News. ``He said he wanted to get the truth out this time, with the same degree of success.''
By attaching the reporters to particular units and making them stay there, the Pentagon took care of its biggest worry: operational security. No journalist is likely to endanger his own life by letting details of a unit's location or attack plan slip out.
And journalists who travel, eat, and sleep with the same soldiers day after day -- not to mention depending on them for their very lives -- are likely to form a sympathetic bond that discourages the kind of adversarial relationship that has often colored American war reporting since the latter years of Vietnam.
That's not to say that the reports from the embedded reporters are false or that they're under the influence of military spinmasters. ''Battlefield commanders don't have time to spin,'' said CNN's Rodgers in an interview via satellite phone from his post in Iraq.
``There's no public affairs officer here. The lieutenant colonel in command of this unit tells us the good and the bad, and we can see it in his face when the news is going to be bad.''
Embedded reporters and their editors say no one has tried to censor or manipulate their reports when the news has been bad. And their presence has undoubtedly forced out stories that the Pentagon might have been tempted to suppress or report in much less detail if the journalists hadn't been there:
o Embedded reporters from CBS and Fox broke the story that a grenade attack that killed several U.S. soldiers was apparently not the work of Iraqi sappers but of a disgruntled American trooper. CBS broadcast grim video of mutilated American soldiers being carried away on stretchers.
o Fox contributor Oliver North reported that the first American casualties of the war came not from hostile fire but a helicopter crash -- which his camera crew caught on video.
o CNN's Gary Tuchman, embedded at an airbase in Kuwait, reported that an Air Force F-16 shot up an allied Patriot missile launcher in southern Iraq in a friendly fire miscue that ended without casualties.
If the negative stories so far have been few and relatively mild, they are also a reminder that the Pentagon strategy is a gamble. Eventually, an embedded TV reporter is going to transmit live images of sudden, grisly death that will hit the American public like a punch in the stomach. In the echo chamber of television, even a minor military setback or a single accidental civilian death could have major reverberations.
''You're already seeing that a little bit,'' acknowledges Hackworth, who pointed out that U.S. approval for the war dropped from 62 percent to 44 percent overnight during the weekend after Iraqi video of dead American soldiers made its way onto television.
''Most Americans think combat is video wargames,'' says Hackworth. ``They're relating these little bumps in the road to losing, and it's causing the support for the war to drop in the polls.''
Even Rumsfeld, the author of the embedding strategy, showed signs of foreboding over the weekend after the networks broadcast footage of the aftermath of the grenade attack.
''Here we have permitted press people to be embedded, as they say, with the overwhelming majority of our elements -- air, land and sea,'' he mused pensively during an interview on NBC. And so what happens is we see an image like that.''
Just as we discussed yesterday.
1)Americans are getting a far different mental image of the war than in GWI. This isn't video games. It's real heros enduring almost unbearable conditions and delivering their finest performance in service to our nations in protecting our freedoms.
2) Death is real, sometimes quick, mostly dirty.
3) War is hell, and with the "direct connect" to the battle fields every American can feel an emotional connection to what is taking place right now. You cannot help but support the troops and our leaders knowing what we are encountering out there.
4) Seeing the progress outright and watching the leftists media's version, we are seeing an image of the war which they cannot spin into something worse. They can take their shots, but when we are seeing divisions of soliders parking just miles outside of our destination in just a few days, it's really, really, really hard for a liberal to paint their efforts as a "failure" or say their "bogged down".
Here's an interesting tid-bit.
***Some American soldiers said they had found large quantities of freshly printed Iraqi currency, some in unsealed blocks, in the pockets of captured Iraqi soldiers, suggesting that they had been paid recently in an effort to encourage them to fight.***New York Times "Either Take a Shot or Take a Chance"
Embedded reporters from CBS and Fox broke the story that a grenade attack that killed several U.S. soldiers was apparently not the work of Iraqi sappers but of a disgruntled American trooper. CBS broadcast grim video of mutilated American soldiers being carried away on stretchers.
Although I disparage CBS for it's left-leaning, agenda-driven journalism, I am in awe and respectful of their brave imbedded reporters.
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There has been much talk lately that embedded reporters and their crew have taken part in the exercises. I heard where one "reporter" picked up arms in a time of need. I heard two other reports where the camera crew helped with medivac situations, leaving the hot zone to help transport the wounded, and returned to the "post" later in the night.
I think it awesome that this is going on, and the bond I mentioned earlier is inevitable under these circumstances...
You happen to catch the shot of Geraldo with a cowboy hat on sitting in the back of the chopper while heading into attack Medina?? I ROTFLMBO... He was a "Man's man" back there, and I sensed a little nervousness from him. lol...
Roger that, Wife. Even Dan Blather can't argue with videotape, and when CBS embedded reporters are giving live, vivid reports, he has to shut his pie-hole!
I love it!.............FRegards
If I had to pick one "soundbite" to show after this war--I would chose this one. The troops sang "Amazing Grace'--and demonstrated it right there on the battlefield!
And I would LOVE to show it to anyone who screams "racist" when they talk about our military!