Saturday, March 05, 2005

Journalists in War

Eason Jordon claimed that US soldiers were "targetting" journalists, and the ensuing shock and horror got him fired. Journalists have been dying and have been injured in Iraq. It's been more visible, but whether it's happening at a faster rate or in greater numbers than in other conflicts remains unclear to me. I'm convinced that more people are more attached to internationalist journalists qua journalists than before. Would native informants--sorry, "stringers"in current parlance--have been mourned before? I'm not saying that they shouldn't have counted as news sources before; rather, I'm saying that in today's world of internet fact-checking and tight corporate expense-accounting, that they are counting, and that they're being counted might skew attempts to compare journalist death and injury quantities in this war and in previous ones.

That said, a lot of journalists have been fired upon during this war. The Pentagon can't simply that that shit happens in a war zone because since day one, they've managed the press, giving preferential treatment to cooperative journalists, embedding journalists with troops, doing regular press conferences, assigning well-meaning attaches to Al-Jazeerah, and even creating Pentagon-funded news outlets (see this post for some details about the Arab media market; it doesn't go into the stupidness of Al-Hurrah!, or whatever the exact transliteration is...).

My general point is that if the US wanted to say--"okay, journalists, go ahead and take your chances in a war zone, and cover what you will, but understand that you might not get special protection"--that would be one thing. But they seem instead to be saying--"okay, journalists, we would really like you to be covering this war from inside the US military protection, and if you're outside, we'd really like you to be reporting nicely about us because in the post 9-11 world, information-war is almost if not more transformative as bombs and missiles. Oh, and shit happens."

Shit has been happening, as it were, and because it's been happening to people who have their hands on the keyboards of the news, and because it's been happening to journalists who believe themselves to be On The Good Side, this shit has become suspicious. Maybe I'm naive, but I am really loath to believe that the US military is targetting journalists on purpose. Like Jeanne at Body and Soul, I don't want to accept Giuliana Sgrena's story that her car was fired on because the military didn't want her to escape her Iraqi captors to file her stories. They would have to be some stories for the military to want to risk such a botched attempt at an assassination! Instead, I tend to believe that US miliatry in Iraq err on the side of self-preservation, and that things are so crazy in Iraq right now that self-preservation entails a lot of actions that seem unconscionable to people sitting safe back home.

Still, the Pentagon should be more careful! The people it's sent out there in Iraq are under extraordinary stress--and they're under an uncontrollable media attention. The Pentagon has already admitted that this war is at least hald a media-battle; it needs to figure out better ways to stop journalists from being "collateral damage."

As a footnote and aside, I wouldn't at all discount the possibility that one or two incidents could be chalked up to personal initiative. The number of incidents in question is relatively small (as compared to total civilian casualties, that is), and a few "bad apples," as it were, might really skew results. On this score, however, I would also ask the Pentagon to consider the media sources it proffers its journalists.

I can't speak to the TV news that soldiers watch (although I've heard it's mostly FOX), but I did spend an entire year listening non-stop to American Forces Radio. Drive-time slots in Germany were given to either military channels or Rush Limbaugh. NPR's morning show played at noon, and at eight, when families not badgered into family-time by the seven o'clock Dr. Laura tuned in, they could hear the carefully balanced NPR show "On Point," after which played "All Things Considered. At midnight, again in Germany, we had the privilege of hearing the outdoors-n'-hunting channel, which seemed to me to be a wafer-thin front for the NRA. All domestic-policy considerations aside, both Rush and Dr. Laura go to extraordinary lengths to justify anything that US military personnel might decide to do. They pretend to address political, familial, or moral concerns, but they know their audience and they rationalize away most anxieties about warfare or national policy or dissent. These people should not be on the air to our deployed personnel. They give a warped view of conventional US opinion and, I believe, enable soldiers who contemplate extralegal actions.

I was listening to AFN on my walkman, as I recall, on a bus to Wiesbaden, when Limbaugh ridiculed the outrage over the Abu Ghraib atrocities as "fratboy pranks." I sneered and was appalled, as I imagine many of my German friends who also listen to AFN did, but since it was radio and went by quickly, I didn't make much of it. At that point, you must understand, it seemed much of a muchness. Anyone who hasn't listened to Rush on a daily basis won't understand how good he is, how seductive and comforting his style. When his comments are reported, as a shocking, out-of-the-mainstream, Limbaugh-instance!, it seems humorously out-of-touch even to the liberal and appalled listener. Yet I was glad that his comments about Abu Ghraib got reported on and criticized widely. He was speaking to our soldiers, you see, and they needed to hear, from somewhere, that he was wrong.

The problem is--he's still speaking to our soldiers. And the shorthard LLL, the shorthand MSM, all mean that news outlets other than Fox and Limbaugh represent the enemy. If you drive home to a US base in Germany between 6 and 8, and you listend to AFN, you'll be convinced that the next segment of NPR will present the views of Stalinist Russia.

The Pentagon can do better by journalists very simply: give real journalists airtime on AFN. Make US soldiers more aware of the real work that journalists do. Instead of giving airtime to mindless lifestyle pundits or ridiculous military announcers, book academics and thinkers. Soldiers are not stupid. They could learn from their military media. Instead, you've chosen to give them either propaganda or very very balanced news. They deserve the BBC (which doesn't come in for the Rhineland-Palatinat), they deserve the radio equivalent of books on tape, they deserve specific and intelligent analysis about the region they're in. Instead they're getting media that basically asserts that journalists all work for Stalin. Small wonder that...

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous:

I see you have mentioned jargon in your blog. I have a jargon web site that seeks to decode all sorts of jargon. Can you help add a section? Great write up on your blog - keep us informed and lets bsut the jargon.

10/11/2005 06:20:00 AM  
Blogger Roberto Iza Valdes:

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11/01/2005 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger Roberto Iza Valdes:

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12/24/2005 05:27:00 PM  
Blogger Roberto Iza Valdes:

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12/25/2005 04:43:00 PM  

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