Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Media And Iraq

From TCS Daily today--Max Borders has an interview with J.D. Johannes, "a former Marine Sergeant and embedded reporter who linked up with his old Marine Corps unit for syndicated TV news reports on the current conflict in Iraq." It's really interesting to get his take on how things stand in Iraq with the military, and the state of the media coverage of the war, since he's familiar with both the soldier's job, and the reporter's. Summing it up: If it bleeds, it ledes. Most reporters in Iraq never get out of their hotels, so the only stories they cover are the explosion and body count related ones--the stories that come to them, really, rather than the other way around. They're not covering the daily military routine, and the improving relations between the military and the Iraqi locals. We all see that, of course, when we watch the news, or read the papers. You just don't see the stories about non-violent interaction between the locals and coalition forces. This suits the terrorists just fine, since the perception then continues that they are wreaking havoc, and ultimately have a chance to win the war. Johannes has got a definite perspective as to why the coverage is the way it is, and how the way the war is covered affects the way it's fought by the enemy. Here's a sample:

Also, and this is probably the most disturbing part, many journalists have not figured out that they're being targeted by the enemy on purpose to help shape the coverage of the war. The insurgents don't want the reporters out and about running around. They're completely satisfied with the "balcony" report and some video shot by a stringer of the daily car bomb. That's the message that the insurgents want to get out. They don't realize that warfare is both the kinetic and non-kinetic. And, therefore, they miss how they're being played by the insurgents. I wish more reporters realized that.

Borders asks if more reporters would help balance some of the coverage (emphasis mine):

Borders: Would we better off with more reporters -- even at the risk of getting stories of bored soldiers in the dessert?

Johannes: More would be better. I've pointed out before that at the height of the Michael Jackson trial, there were some 2,200 credentialed reporters covering that trial. At the height of the invasion, there were 450-some credentialed reporters embedded with the coalition, and probably a couple 100 others out running around on their own, doing a great job. The number of -- especially of western reporters credentialed in Iraq -- is very small. And that does a great disservice to the American public. Because news forms history, which informs public opinion, which shapes foreign policy for generations to come.

Johannes talks a little bit about why he's an optimist regarding Iraq:

Borders: It looks like you have a slightly more optimistic view of things than the mainstream media.

Johannes: I am an optimist. What really sealed my optimism was when I got to spend some time at the national assembly there at the convention center in the international zone, when the delegates were hammering out the constitution late last summer. I got to see the delegates working; I got to see press conferences. At one press conference I think I was the only western reporter. There might have been another one (I think he was from the LA Times.)

And what I saw there: everyone talking about the matter; coming out to do the press conference; 12 or more television cameras from the Arab media; a big pit of print reporters just peppering these Iraqi politicians with questions -- just badgering them, man... It just looked like a White House press conference. I realized there and then -- a free press. Three years ago, that didn't happen in Iraq. And then you see all the other factions and parties coming out to the podium, putting on their spin, blaming the other guy -- it looked like Washington, D.C. Spin sounds the same in every language. And when I saw that, I said, "OK, these people get it."

This by no means sums up what he has to say, so read the whole thing.