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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

How Our Soldiers View the Press Coverage in Iraq

Hat Tip to
InstaPundit for the link.


During my movement to Fallujah, I was on 3 bases and one camp: At Ali Al Salem (Kuwait), BIAP (Baghdad International Airport), Camp Stryker, and LZ Washington (inside the Green Zone).

The travel is long, and it can be boring if you let it get to you. But you're surrounded by a bunch of soldiers, Marines and contractors that are also traveling, many of them alone. They are either coming back from or going on leave, or moving into or out of the region. Most of them are quite friendly and happy to strike up a conversation. This is an interesting time to speak to them, because they are not as engrossed in the daily grind of Iraq as they are when I see them while I'm embedded. Here is a brief overview of some of the discussions I had with those I met while shuttling around Kuwait and Iraq.

Ali Al Salem:

At the transient tent (where you get to sleep and store your gear while waiting), I spoke to an Explosive Ordinance and Demolitions (EOD) contractor. These are the guys that blow up the leftover explosives and munitions from the Saddam era. He told me about how the media isn't telling the full story about the nature of the enemy, and specifically complained about the manipulation and distortion of the Kay report. He said he's run across bunkers and the equipment and chemical precursors to WMD buried in the deserts of western Iraq.

During a smoke break, an Army private discussed his time in Balad. He said mortars (which are blind-fired) are the greatest threat his unit faces. Not IEDs, I asked? Nope. While waiting to board the flight to BIAP, a Marine Major complained about how the progress in western Iraq has virtually gone unnoticed, and was furious over the characterization of the Devlin report on Anbar province. I gave him my card.

Camp Stryker:

While waiting to catch the flight to the Green Zone, I spoke to two Army captains, one who works in Civil Affairs, the other with the Military Transition Teams. Both explained how the situation could look very different based on your job, but that the Iraqi police and Army were making real progress. They said the Iraqis' skills ranged from poor to excellent, but they always saw improvement.

I also overheard an Army specialist sitting behind me curse the media (and I mean curse), saying they didn't know what they were talking about when it came to Iraq. I talked to him, and explained I'm considered a reporter, and that I won't argue with his points. I made him uncomfortable. Had he known I was 'the press' I think he would have kept it to himself.

LZ Washington:

While waiting to manifest on the flight to Fallujah, CNN played a news segment of President Bush announcing there would be no “graceful exit” from Iraq, and that we'd stay until the mission was complete. Two sergeants in the room cheered. Loudly. They then scoffed at the reports from Baghdad, and jeered the balcony reporting.

In nearly every conversation, the soldiers, Marines and contractors expressed they were upset with the coverage of the war in Iraq in general, and the public perception of the daily situation on the ground. The felt the media was there to sensationalize the news, and several stated some reporters were only interested in “blood and guts.” They freely admitted the obstacles in front of them in Iraq. Most recognized that while we are winning the war on the battlefield, albeit with difficulties in some areas, we are losing the information war. They felt the media had abandoned them.

During each conversation, I was left in the awkward situation of having to explain that while, yes, I am wearing a press badge, I'm not 'one of them.' I used descriptions like 'independent journalist' or 'blogger' in an attempt to separate myself from the pack.

What a terrible situation to be in, having to defend yourself because of your profession. I've always said that the hardest thing about embedding (besides leaving my family) is wearing the badge that says 'PRESS.' That hasn't changed. I hide the badge whenever I can get away with it.

This isn't the first time I encountered this sentiment from the troops. I experienced this attitude from the Marines while I was in western Iraq last year, and the soldiers in the Canadian Army in Afghanistan also expressed frustration with the media's presentation of the war.

Perhaps this tension between the media and the military is nothing new. But it appalls me none the less.

It is a real pity that our soldiers have to suffer the pain of knowing that no one is willing to give their words a forum, no one is willing to let them be heard. These are the people putting their lives on the line everyday and the "press" refuses to acknowledge the things they have to say.

Here is another case of the mainstream media ignoring relevant aspects of what is happening in Iraq, from the Captain's Journal: (A HUGE thanks to Ron Wright for the email).

Failure of Main Stream Media to Report Huge Victory Against Insurgents.

There is enough bad news coming from Iraq, and I have done my fair share of reporting and commenting on it. But from time to time there are outstanding and remarkable stories of victory and success, and these instances are made all the more remarkable by the fact that the main stream media completely ignores them.

In Ansar al Sunna Leadership: U.S. Forces Net Big Insurgent Catch, I reported on the capture of eleven senior level leadership of terrorist group Ansar al Sunna. Specifically, among those captured were the emirs of Iraq, Ramadi, Baqubah, Tikrit, al Qa’im, Bayji and Baghdad. They also captured two terrorist facilitators, a courier, an explosives expert and a financier. The detention of these terrorists delivers a serious blow to the AAS network that is responsible for improvised explosive device attacks and suicide attacks and on Iraqi government, Coalition Forces and Iraqi civilians. The AAS network is also responsible for multiple kidnappings, small arms attacks and other crimes in the central and northern part of Iraq. AAS is considered by some to be a leading terror organization in Iraq … Although some AAS senior leadership allegedly hide in Iran, they continually plan attacks to disrupt Iraqi reconstruction efforts. This allows the AAS leadership to attempt to disrupt Iraqi reconstruction progress using their followers, while keeping the leadership out of harms way.

I went on to point out that an emir is a chieftan, or a military governor of his assigned territory. This was no small catch of trouble-makers. Ansar al-Sunna is considered by some experts to be the most important insurgent group in Iraq, and U.S. forces captured more than half a dozen high level leaders of the group.

There is a case to be made that while the killing of Zarqawi had a Hollywood aspect to it, the capture of these insurgents was more significant and will have greater ramifications than the demise of Zarqawi. Major news organizations should have been clamoring for information in order to weave a story together for the American public. Americans should have information to share with each other over nightly dinner, and this specific victory should be in the public consciousness for several weeks to come.

Writing the article was relatively easy. A few minutes worth of study of the press releases, a few more studying the relevant articles about it, and finally a few more studying the research and scholarly works on Ansar al-Sunna, and presto, there was the article. Granted, Michael Ledeen had to write me and correct (what I hope to be a somewhat inconsequential) point of history on the group, but still, the reader now knows more than s/he did prior to reading my article. Ignoring my foible on history, the main thrust of the story is encouraging, and would have taken a seasoned reporter only a few minutes to a couple of hours to construct.

But again, on what might be the most significant counterinsurgency victory in months, the main stream media is noticeably absent. I posted my article on December 2, and decided to give the main stream media Monday, the start of the normal weekly news cycle, to pick up on the story. But a quick check of the major outlets shows that there is nothing out there. Is this a symptom of their incompetence or their bias?

Makes you wonder if there IS any unbiased media in Iraq and if anyone truly cares what our soldiers are saying.