Published: Wednesday, 04 April 2007 00:00
Someone from Fox News called me a few nights ago, saying Fox had to turn down a two-week embed due to security reasons. Not security reasons meaning that they might get shot or blown up, but security reasons that their gear might get stolen on base. I have written before about how, even now into the 5th year of the war in Iraq, there are still are no dedicated resources —particularly, secure places for press to live and work so that they can launch off into combat embeds—on the major bases in Baghdad. Fox News, faced with staying in tents with itinerant workers who today might be in Baghdad, and tomorrow in Calcutta or Los Angeles (with someone else’s gear), turned down a two-week embed with our forces. ABC no longer embeds with combat forces due to the sheer danger of the combat, and now Fox has no plans to embed until at least May, simply due to security and workspace on the bases themselves.
Senior Public Affairs officers have shamelessly claimed the lack of living quarters and workspace is due to the “surge.” This fails to explain why there were no such provisions made in 2003. Or 2004. Or 2005. Or 2006. Of course, now in 2007, they have a convenient excuse, and a false either/or: “Would you throw a soldier out of a trailer just so you could have one?” Never a combat soldier, but maybe it would be acceptable to take the place of one of the music bands they unfailingly find room for. Or the sexy cheerleaders and the burly, rich football players and so on and so forth, which of course Public Affairs will say is for morale purposes. To answer the question which soldiers might be thrown-out to make room for a few journalists, how about tossing out a few portly generals who after four solid-years at war haven’t found some accounting dust in the hundreds of billions of dollars spent here to get a few extra trailers and dedicate them for media? If half this battle is being fought in the media, why isn’t one-tenth of one-tenth of one tenth of one-tenth of the budget spent on that half of the war? Maybe if they build it, the media will come; at least, the news team from Fox will be there.
Who suffers? Firstly, we are losing the war in part because we are losing public support for it. We are losing public support for it in part because there are so few reports that demonstrate enough progress being made and enough reasons to continue to fight until Iraqis are able to go it alone. Secondly, the soldiers suffer because their stories are not being told. Fox News, which reaches millions, just turned down an embed simply because they don’t want their cameras and computers stolen, and they need to actually work when they aren’t guarding their gear. Unlike yours truly, Fox News has deadlines to meet.
People at home who lament not knowing how their loved-ones are doing should write to their Representatives and Senators; it doesn’t seem likely that this problem is going to be fixed from within the system. It’s going to take outside influence because the military system has invested so heavily in being professional-media-victims. Even some obvious and easy fixes, mentioned here recently, and others offered in much greater detail at the Military Reporters and Editors website, are not being implemented. The military is doing nothing systematically to fix the problem. If our combat forces fought the way we fight the media war, we would all be dead.
Speaking of comments on the website, check out this one, from a writer who teases ever so coyly about his “real” identity:
- Zig Says:
Michael,Let me give you some advice.First, quit pissing off GO’s [General Officers], you should know as well as anybody that they all have some degree of God-like syndrome.Don’t try on remove the tree from the top down; bottom up is the way to go. Seek out and make relationships with junior enlisted and junior NCO’s, they can help you get it done. With your military experience you should know this.Loose the unnecessary gear, a laptop, one digital camera and a good wide zoom lens, (Sigma 24-70 f/2.4) for example. A good holster type camera bag and a soft-sided bag for the laptop, It’s all you need bro. Oh yea, and a thumb drive!Yes, you cannot plug a personal PC into NIPR, but you can plug a thumb drive into a PC that is already plugged into NIPR. This is where the junior enlisted or junior NCO can help you out. Without a CAC I doubt you have access to the internet cafés, you might be able to charm your way in with a civi ID and your press credentials but the E4 or 5 mentioned above may be able to let you sit down at his work station and send up your files.Spell out acronyms on first reference only! Use the inverted pyramid even in your RUBS. You’re a good writer but you need to write like a journalist every time you publish something, no short cuts. Get an AP Style Book and use it consistently.When someone in a position to help reaches out and tries to open up a line of communication, perhaps you should reply directly rather than using the fact that they reached out to you as a point of irony in one of your articles, ;-)We might be able to help smooth out some bumps in your road, of course if we can smooth out those bumps, you won’t be able to write about them anymore.The above is a clue to who I am; with a bit of digging you should be able to figure it out. We want to help.Good luck and keep up the good work!Out.
March 30th, 2007 at 5:07 pm
“Zig” actually works for CENTCOM in something called Operation Keyboard Warrior (OKW). It’s not clear whether this is a DoD project or a cyber group, but OKW “warriors” watch over web sites and blogs and descend upon those focusing on the military’s media relations. They plant comments when posts critical of the military “side” gain any traction.
After readers emails made me aware of Zig’s identity, two things occurred to me.
First, Zig indirectly confirms what I complained about in previous RUBS dispatches, by supplying several examples of ways that PAO staff could have easily helped with getting my stories out.
Furthermore, Zig seems to suggest that the failure for anyone to have done this was a deliberate “we’ll show him ” shakedown. To this I can only reply: who got punished, Zig? In the effort to teach this reporter a lesson and put him in his “place,” all involved parties seemed to forget who they are supposed to be working for and what their jobs are supposed to be.
This clumsy, disingenuous, planted comment is coming from CENTCOM, in response to material I published that documented problems in how media representatives are treated. Someone with ways to fix at least some of these problems, and enough time on his hands to be surfing the web, posting snarky comments. I suppose I should be more grateful to CENTCOM, whose best answer to the lack of secure storage for media gear is to suggest we probably don’t need all the gear anyway (we’re probably either vain or just ignorant about our professions.) After all, in an informal, off the cuff comment, probably intended to undermine the credibility of my complaints, CENTCOM’s OKW Zig rattles off a list of “helpful suggestions” that ultimately prove the point that the military’s media arm is shriveled to such a degree that it can only reliably deliver self-inflicted wounds.
If readers and consumers want more and better coverage of the war in Iraq, they might consider encouraging both sides of the equation—the mainstream media providers who’ve largely stopped providing, and the military public affairs people who’ve facilitated this failure— to do their jobs.