Monday, October 23, 2006

Iraq II: Why the U.S. Is Also Losing the Media War

The U.S. is not only losing the military war in Iraq, it is losing the information war.

Michael Yon, one of the most perceptive journos around when it comes to the Middle East generally and Iraq specifically, says the media is not to blame in a Weekly Standard commentary.

Some excerpts:
"In a counterinsurgency, the media battlespace is critical. When it comes to mustering public opinion, rallying support, and forcing opponents to shift tactics and timetables to better suit the home team, our terrorist enemies are destroying us. Al Qaeda's media arm is called al Sahab: the cloud. It feels more like a hurricane. While our enemies have "journalists" crawling all over battlefields to chronicle their successes and our failures, we have an "embed" media system that is so ineptly managed that earlier this fall there were only 9 reporters embedded with 150,000 American troops in Iraq. There were about 770 during the initial invasion.

"Many blame the media for the estrangement, but part of the blame rests squarely on the chip-laden shoulders of key military officers and on the often clueless Combined Press Information Center in Baghdad, which doesn't manage the media so much as manhandle them. Most military public affairs officers are professionals dedicated to their jobs, but it takes only a few well-placed incompetents to cripple our ability to match and trump al Sahab. By enabling incompetence, the Pentagon has allowed the problem to fester to the point of censorship. . . .

"I don't use the word lightly. Censorship is a hand grenade of an accusation, and a writer should be serious before pulling the pin. . . . But we can and should complain when authorities willfully limit war reporting. We should do so whether it happens as a matter of policy, or through incompetence or bureaucratic sloth. The result is the same in any case. And once the matter has been brought to the attention of the military and the Pentagon--which I have quietly done--and still the situation is not rectified, it is time for a public accounting.

For generations journalists have been allowed to "embed" with various U.S. military units, including infantry outfits. Infantry is perhaps the most dangerous, underpaid, and unglamorous job on the planet. Infantrymen are called grunts, trigger-pullers, cannon fodder, and ground-pounders. Long hours, low pay, and death, death, death. If they survive, they get a welcome-home party. Sometimes. And that's it: Thanks. In World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, reporters were given wide latitude to travel with the infantry, even if few could stand it for long. Up to last year, this war was no different. A journalist could stay out with the infantry for as long as he could take it. I spent most of 2005 in Iraq, and most of that was with infantry units in combat. . . .

"I believe now as I did then: The government of the United States has no right to send our people off to war and keep secret that which it has no plausible military reason to keep secret. After all, American blood and treasure is being spent. Americans should know how our soldiers are doing, and what they are doing while wearing our flag. The government has no right to withhold information or to deny access to our combat forces just because that information might anger, frighten, or disturb us."

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