Soldiers vs. the Press: Round II
Journalism Versus Reality in Iraq
by James Dunnigan
December 3, 2005
American troops are developing a hate-hate relation with journalists. The basic problem is that soldiers and marines in Iraq have access, usually via the Internet, to what the mass media is saying about what they think is happening in Iraq. These news reports, all too often, do not reflect what the troops experience. It gets uglier when the troops realize that reporters are spending most of their time in the Green Zone or some well guarded hotel, leaving it to local Iraqi stringers to collect information and photos for the reporters stories. Relations are a bit better with the few embedded journalists who still travel with the troops out in field. But even the embeds are often mistrusted and disliked, because some of them are blatantly out for dirt, not an accurate story.
Few of the troops understand that the news business is driven by dramatic events, not the tedious kind of process the troops go through every day to defeat the terrorists. To the troops, the war is being won. They see bad guys killed in large numbers, and few Americans getting hurt (it’s fairly common for their to be about twenty enemy dead for each American loss). The troops see tangible evidence, every day, of Iraqis having a better life. The troops cannot understand why that is not news, and why journalists always seem to be looking for a negative angle. To the average G.I., the attitude is, “what are these reporters looking for?” They are looking for a story, and bad news is a story. Good news is not. As a result of this clash of cultures, reporters are increasingly seen as a potentially dangerous enemy. For the troops, this is already accepted as true for many Arab journalists. Some of those have been arrested for hostile activity, or later revealed as al Qaeda agents. European journalists are seen as particularly clueless, so wrapped up in their anti-American fantasies, that communication is nearly impossible. But after watching a CNN clip on the net, or viewing an online story from the New York Times or Washington Post, it’s hard to view U.S. journalists as fellow Americans.
1. US journalists are fellow Americans...who just happen to be bad reporters.
2. Dunnigan writes: "They are looking for a story, and bad news is a story. Good news is not." But there's nothing inherent in journalism that mandates this attitude to America's wars. This is a post-Vietnam phenomenon: the reporters of World War II had higher standards than our current generation of celebrity-journalists.
3. The bottom line here is that current journalists are simply poor critical thinkers: skeptical of anything good that comes out of Washington, but ready to believe the crudest propaganda from Middle Eastern terrorists.
4. September 11th was a shock because the leading voices of the American press (ABC/CBS/NBC/NYTimes) failed in their responsibilities to the American public. 4 years later, far too little has changed.