Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Blogs & The Two Front War

Cpt. Sherman Powell's now famous response to Matt Lauer offers wonderful insight into the conflicting visions of those actually doing the task & those merely reporting about situation. While it is true that a majority of MSM journalists are biased against the war, I believe that there are other factors at play as well.

The MSM is a business; their true goal is ensuring their own continuity. In order to increase sales, they seek to sensationalize minutia to create stories with a "buzz". The result is succinctly put in the oft-heard mantra, "if it bleeds, it leads". Michael Yon calls the basic model of war reporting, SIGACT: Significant Actions. Insurgent attacks & casualties from IED's & VBIED's make the news, but US soldiers helping a little girl by giving her crucial medical attention or bringing school supplies, shoes & clothes to kids does not.

He points to another factor, which prevents the good deeds of our soldiers getting the publicity they deserve:
Most of the acts of kindness I witness are done from an instinctive altruism that almost always seeks anonymity. And there is that other problem with catching people doing good--the cynical media is quick to ascribe cheap motivations to soldiers who reveal their humanity through their decency. And does anyone really care about the soldiers who, after having arrested a suspected insurgent, then spent the next twenty minutes trying to find a home for the two little puppies he was keeping?

Also, how "embedded" are these embedded journalists. What is the proportion of time spent at their hotel in Baghdad, as opposed to sparsely appointed military bases & the terribly uncomfortable & dangerous battle field? The war correspondents, who were really stationed in hotels in Pakistan, wearing Kevlar vests & field gear while giving their reports, as if they were in the middle of a battle field, during the Afghan War, are to me a wonderful example of how much war reporting is really done.

The reasons given for this sad state, in Iraq, is the danger of being kidnapped by insurgents, bandits, IEDs, the difficulty of finding trustworthy bodyguards, ect. ect. ect.... All the excuses offered sound to me, like that of the proverbial kid telling the teacher 'the dog ate my homework'. The fact that Michael Yon can, with a fraction of the budget of war correspondents from the major networks, offer far better coverage than all of them combined is very telling. Talent & courage obviously go a long way.

Another issue is, who is talking to journalists & how do the journalists interpret it. Lt. Neil Prakash offers an example:
....Funny thing about the media and soldiers. Try to interview any one of my soldiers and they will shake their heads and slink away. None of us like talking to the media. I always wonder whose side the media is on. When I read stories about how the carbomb is the enemy's weapon of choice and it's their version of a "smart bomb" etc etc, it freaks me out. Yeah ok, maybe these are no secrets but for the love of God, stop glorifying the enemy tactics so much. It just encourages them more. The media has few vessels for conveying the news - FEAR and CONTROVERSY are just two. What cheap and lousy tactics. The other reason we hate talking to the media is because we feel like douchebags when we do. My guys are real soldiers, and real soldiers hate the spotlight. It's usually POGs talking to the media. (Unless your chain of command makes you talk to them because it's good for PA).
Here's the difference between a POG and a trigger puller. I remember being in the DFAC at Camp Fallujah and overheard this one guy talking about how pumped he was about killing Iraqis and their babies. I thought he was a hardcore killing psychopath until I asked him. He was a commo guy responsible for keeping the internet site up on the camp. Real trigger pullers don't talk like that...

Despite all their talk of sensitivity & the importance of understanding other cultures & their way of life, most journalists have yet to understand that the military has its own culture. They live a different life-style & have different codes of conduct. Ever heard uncensored doctor humor? It could easily be misconstrued by one unfamiliar with their working conditions. They are hardly unfeeling or insensitive, however, they are faced with extremely stressful situations on a daily basis & must find a means with which to cope. The situation in the military is much the same.

Of course the people who would be most able to understand military culture would be former members of the military, yet they are often labeled as biased & dismissed. While it is certainly possible for former service members to have a pro-military bias, it is also possible for those who had never been in the military to be biased against the military. Bias is a two way street & many in the field of journalism fail to acknowledge this.

Journalists are an interesting group of creatures: they disseminate information to the public on subjects about which they have very little actual knowledge. I find it rather amusing that "professional" journalists deride bloggers as amateurs in pajamas, when in fact "real" journalists themselves rarely tend to be experts on the subject about which they report.

Had it not been for the milblogs & Michael Yon's online magazine, the gloom & doom pictures offered to us by the MSM would have escaped substantial challenge. As T6 writes of the "news” broadcasts he saw of Iraq while on his two-week break back in America:
In a perfectly measured voice the anchor rattled off the number of bombings and Iraqi and US casualties like she was reading off the results of a local baseball game. "Today in Iraq insurgents set off three massive explosions targeting Iraqi troops" came the anchors voice as the camera panned over a smoking crater "resulting in 43 Iraqi casualties" she continued as the camera swept over the splintered remnants of the ruined neighborhood. "In Mosul US soldiers died, bringing the total of US personnel killed to…." At that point I turned away. It was too much, listening to that disembodied voice pick through tragedies like a vulture....
I didn’t think back to that clipped broadcast until I returned to Iraq. Here in the throbbing heart of Baghdad, swimming in a sea of shimmering heat - that news segment seems almost disingenuous. I’m sure that yesterday, half a world away that same newscaster spent 10 or 15 seconds covering the latest insurgent ambush before moving onto the local weather forecast. And I’m equally certain that someone watched that broadcast and grew a little more despondent about the situation here in Iraq. But what was lost in that syrupy smooth slice of news was a story that shows just how much Iraq has changed, and about how disciplined some Iraqi Army units have become in a few short months...

Indeed, if the situation in Iraq was so bad & the morale as abysmally low as the "polls" claim, why is it that the rate of re-enlistment is at record levels? In fact:
Every one of the Army's 10 divisions — its key combat organizations — has exceeded its re-enlistment goal for the year to date. Those with the most intense experience in Iraq have the best rates. The 1st Cavalry Division is at 136 percent of its target, the 3rd Infantry Division at 117 percent.
Among separate combat brigades, the figures are even more startling, with the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division at 178 percent of its goal and the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Mech right behind at 174 percent of its re-enlistment target. This is unprecedented in wartime. Even in World War II, we needed the draft.

And no, it’s not the money. Only 60% of those who re-enlisted received bonuses, even then, the amounts ranged from $6,000-$12,400. 643 with highly specialized skills, most likely Special Forces members, received $57,000. All the amounts are a fraction of what these patriotic men & women could command in the private sector.

And as Lance in Iraq (who in civilian life is the Press Secretary for the House Republican Caucus in the Tennessee Legislature, thus an official member of the chickenhawk vast right wing conspiracy) points out, the majority of the soldiers in Iraq aren't part of the crowd clamoring for an exit date:
“We came here to do a job and then go home, whether that takes 10 years or even 15 years,” said Spc. Allan Annaert, from Headquarters Support Company, of the 94th Engineer Combat Battalion, (Heavy), which is stationed in Mosul, Iraq....“It’s going to affect me because I just re-enlisted, but I don’t mind coming back here,” said Spc. Charles Welling, also of the engineer battalion. “We’ve got a job to do, and we’ve got to finish it. I already anticipated coming back again, and I’ll be ready for it.“If we started this to help [Iraq], then we’ve got to finish. If that takes until 2010, then it takes until 2010.”

The situation has gotten to the point were even the AP & the NYT cannot ignore their skewed reporting practices. At a recent editors meeting at the AP:
...Some editors expressed concern that a kind of bunker mentality was preventing reporters in Iraq from getting out and explaining the bigger picture beyond the daily death tolls...
(Read the whole article, the stupidity is stunning)

Looks like the adage that the first casualty of war is the truth was right. She was grievously injured by the mainstream media; but our milbloggers & their supporters aren't about to let her go that easily. On the other hand, if they continue this pattern, the MSM will find them selves suffering even more than they already are. While many of us are extremely grateful our men & women in uniform, it is sad that they must fight a two front war: one against terrorism & another against the media.

Note: This is the second part of the Blogging series. Part I here.

HAT TIP: Mudville, Wizbang

Update: more on recruiting, media bias, re-enlistment

The first hand accounts of Iraq are available not only via milblogs, but through books like this one:
SOLDIER LIFE: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN AMERICAN SOLDIER
New Book Detailing the Everyday Life of an American Soldier's Experience with The War on Terror from LBF Books

PITTSBURGH, PA , Aug. 18 - LBF Books to publish Soldier Life: A Day in the Life of an American Soldier (ISBN 1-885093-44-6 ). The book details the author's experiences while deployed and back home, weaving a gut-wrenching, heartfelt tapestry of experiences and emotions unique to soldiers' living and dying in this war. American Soldier's work comprised of elements drawn from his critically acclaimed and widely read weblog ( www.soldierlife.com), aims to bring the grim, yet human face of war to readers everywhere.

The author, writing under a pseudonym to protect his identity, delivers a first-person account of the constantly changing world of an American Soldier attempting to balance both family and responsibility while enduring the reality of war. Soldier Life: A Day in the Life of an American Soldier chronicles the events engulfing modern day patriots, and the hardships he willingly endured to ensure safety and security of family and country left behind.

Soldier Life: A Day in the Life of an American Soldier is required reading for those looking for an intimate insight into the minds of fathers, husbands, and warriors serving in this war.

LBF Books plans to release Soldier Life: A Day in the Life of an American Soldier in December, 2005.

American Soldier & LBF Books will be donating a large portion of the proceeds to Soldiers Angels ( http://www.soldiersangels.org/) and Operation Troop Appreciation (http://www.operationtroopappreciation.org/). Both organizations are federally recognized programs that assist Troops abroad with care packages and items needed while deployed.

Contact: LeeAnn Lessard
LBF Books, Public Relations
Pittsburgh , PA
613-797-7578
leeann.lessard@sympatico.ca
www.lbfbooks.com

Also, there is a band of rockers in Iraq :-) To listen to sample clips & buy their CD, please visit: http://www.iraq-songs.com/

To hear the voices of actual Iraqis: the movie Voices of Iraq. If not available through your local video store or www.netflix.com, plase visit the website http://www.voicesofiraq.com/. Nehring the Edge has a great review of this movie.

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