Friday, July 17, 2009
Is the Press Our Deadliest Foe In Afghanistan?
Those who are the smartest people in the press room too often feel that skepticism of the military somehow gives journalist, editors and op-ed writers more credibility and clout. The media may just be the deadliest foe in Afghanistan, I know they were almost fatal in Iraq. As a war correspondent, I have covered somewhere between 50 to 75 military units from nations throughout the world. Army pilots, Air Force medics or Marine infantrymen, the variety of teams working in a war zone runs the gamut, but no matter how many different American troops I speak to, I'm asked the same question from the men and women serving overseas. "Why is the media so biased against the military?" I am not convinced the "media" as a group conspires to be biased against the military, but the troops overseas have a point, there is a media-military disconnect and there are couple of reasons why. Those who are the smartest people in the press room too often feel that skepticism of the military somehow gives journalist, editors and op-ed writers more credibility and clout. Far too many members of the media are afflicted with "monkey see journalist write". Conventional wisdom and group think become more important than individual reporting and the need to fit in among colleagues. I have come to these conclusions out of personal experience. As I wrote in 2007 about the success of the Anbar Awakening, and how little the war in Iraq resembled what was portrayed throughout most of the media, I was accused of being "naive", biased or an "outright war propagandist." In country, whenever I first meet a unit, I usually get a cold reception because American troops mostly feel the media is out to get them. For some, having a media embed is at worst being forced to host a backstabbing spy or, at best babysitting a spoiled brat. Controversy gets attention and this fits into the very popular template journalists use to portray the American soldier as a victim or the Marine as a villain. The troops generally likes FOX News, but there's no doubt that much of the press gets far less love. While traveling in Iraq, I heard tons of media nightmare stories and this trip to Afghanistan (my third) has been no different. It's sad that members of the American military almost always expect a story on their work to be unfair or portray them in a bad light, but some journalists have been downright dangerous. New York Times writer, David Brooks, revealed the name of an Army Special Forces soldier in an op-ed and was even kind enough to give a small description. Just like CIA operatives, members of Special Forces are not to be revealed in the media, the military public affairs officers make that quite clear to reporters and yet the NY Times still published Brook's piece placing the Special Ops Green Beret and his family back home in danger. It's difficult to understand why the NY Times thinks it's above the rules. "I will not watch CNN." one soldier flatly told me in the mess hall at Camp Airborne, Afghanistan It's not just the American media that seems to have an agenda; I've heard nightmares about the foreign press too. One Green Beret told me of British reporter Stephen Grey, the author of "Operation Snakebite" and "Ghost Plane: The True Story of Operation Snake Bite." In a news report, Grey bluntly accused the Army Special Forces of murdering civilians, an accusation that surprised the men involved in the operation. I was not personally there, but the Green Beret who led the mission that day called the reporting "ridiculous and disappointing" because "Grey saw everything that was going on and was very chummy with us before he left." The Green Berets felt Grey came into the report with an agenda and never intended to give them a fair shake. Grey's Web site is running a story on the "American Gulag," so much for objectivity. Honest and sincere reporting, critical or otherwise can help improve an organization and the military is no exception. The men and women in both Iraq and Afghanistan have up armored to face a motivated and deadly enemy willing to kill with little or no regard. Unfortunately, there is little defense against a free press devoid of free thought and even fewer justifications.