Monday, October 23, 2006

Today's Reading Assignment

I hope you've had the chance to read Michael Yon's Weekly Standard piece on the military's chronic mismanagement of the media "embed" program in iraq. If you haven't, take five and review this most timely and insightful article. At one of the most critical moments in Iraq's history, Michael notes that there are only a handful of embedded reporters with U.S. and coalition forces. And the reason for the low numbers is not necessarily a lazy press corps. In many cases, senior military public affairs have rejected embed requests, sometimes for specious reasons such as the journalist "doesn't have adequate insurance."

As Mr. Yon observers--with more than a touch of irony--the PAO who rejected his recent embed request is the same official who has decried the lack of media coverage of our forces in Iraq. By rejecting embed requests from men like Michael Yon, PAOs are cutting off a media outlet they should be cultivating, manned by journalists willing to spend weeks on the front lines, and provide fair, objective reporting on our military efforts in Iraq.

Instead, most of today's media coverage from Iraq seems to flow through the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC), the PAO-controlled effort in Baghdad that is beginning to take on the appearance of the infamous "Five O'Clock Follies" from Vietnam. When the PAO running the shop becomes the "most quoted man in Iraq," that should be a danger sign. Unfortunately, it's become SOP for the information war on its most critical front.

And, if that's not bad enough, there is apparently no consistency in DoD policy toward embeds. Some journalists have been invited to join units in the field by commanding officers--only to have the request rejected up the chain. In other cases, military bloggers and free-lance photographers have been allowed to embed in Afghanistan, without the "insurance" requirement that was placed on Michael Yon by the PAO mafia in Baghdad.

As we're written before, the blogosphere and the internet are critical information outlets that must be contested by our military, or we risk ceding that battlespace to the enemy. Bloggers like Michael Yon have produced some of the most factual--and riveting--accounts of our troops in combat, yet some are now being denied access to the battlefield, with the fight for Iraq in its most critical phase. Is this a case of censorship, or just another example of the military bureaucracy gone amok? Paging Major Major Major Major.

Somewhere, the ghost of Joe Heller must be smiling (or cringing).


Mike H. said...

I know, I know, let's embed CNN, we'll get a fair shake from them. Haven't they already given equal time to the enemy? They should jump at the chance to show our side 'now'. I realize that when I was in the Marine Corps I swore I would shoot the first journalistic SOB that showed his face around even the most senior of my troops, let alone the rest of them. That was then and now they're only trying to make it look like then. And at the time I was a pissed off SNCO, now I'm only a pissed off civilian.

Maybe we should quit early and let them get back to news as usual.

Unknown said...

I'm not advocating embedding the MSM; in fact, if you read Mike Yon's article, you'll see that MSM outlets have no trouble getting embed requests approved--when they make them. And, if you look at the recent stats for embeds, you'll see that the old media is staying off the battlefield; none of the embeds listed in September represented the big networks or MSM print outlets. Those organizations are quite content to let their Iraqi "stringers" gather information and shoot the video, with no real effort to verify the information they provide.

On the other hand, guys like Mike Yon are willing to embed--on their own dime--for extended periods, providing real coverage of the war, and reaching a surprisingly large audience in the process. That's why the rejection of his embed request is so maddening--it's the very type of "new" media outlet the press handlers should be courting, but the dismiss these journalists out of hand.

In a web-driven media and information environment, our PAO crowd is stuck in the era of press releases.