Media in bed--er, embedded--with the military

I rarely watch US national newscasts anymore, and watching Peter Jennings and company referring to Bush's robotic performance last night as the president's "Day of Destiny," I vow to continue looking elsewhere for news. Turns out I'm not alone. With war ramping up, and American journalism bowing to the White House, more and more people are turning to foreign news reports for more balanced coverage. According to Wired, 49% of the visitors to The Guardian of London in January came from the Americas, and the BBC and Independent also saw spikes in visits from our hemisphere.

As the war unfolds, finding balance will mean seeking out networks, news sources, and reporters who refuse to "embed"--or caravan with the US military. Of the 660 reporters signed up to report on Iraq, most Americans are embedding, while only a handful of the 100 non-American journalists are expected to be independent (a particularly spooky venture, considering the Pentagon says such "unilateralists" can be shot at by American troops). Like a Boy Scout campout, embedding promises such fun--they all get camoflaged "uniforms" embroidered with the name of their network, and one even brought an American flag to unfurl in Baghdad--that the roster of reporters runs that gamut from an MTV VJ to arms-dealer-turned-Fox-pundit Oliver North. As The Toronto Star writes:
Critics charge that they in fact will be "in bed" with the troops: eating, drinking, sleeping and surviving (or not) together.

The danger, of course, is that they will identify so closely with the soldiers that they won't file the negative sorts of stories that came out of Vietnam, such as the report that made 60 Minutes' Morley Safer's career. (It depicted Americans torching villages with their Zippos.) All we'll get are warm and fuzzy features about the joys of bathing out of a bucket and how the sand infects everything from your crotch to your K-rations.

And, needless to say, the tales will all be told from one side. Not many reporters will jump to the Iraqi lines to get a quote.
One reporter, George C. Wilson--dubbed the "dean" of the DC press pool in a Christian Science Monitor article--illustrates this point when he talks about how "real" his reporting in Iraq will be:
It's still exciting. I like being a soldier, seeing real things instead of Rumsfeld's portrait of what's going on in the world.
In a letter to the about-to-be-embedded,Vietnam reporter Jeff Gralnick reiterates the notion that intentions of reporting The Truth are often waylaid by a kind of Stockholm Syndrome:
You will fall in with a bunch of grunts, experience and share their hardships and fears and then you will feel for them and care about them. You will wind up loving them and hating their officers and commanders and the administration that put them (and you) in harm's way. Ernie Pyle loved his grunts; Jack Laurance and Michael Herr loved theirs; and I loved mine. And as we all know, love blinds and in blinding it will alter the reporting you thought you were going to do. Trust me. It happens, and it will happen no matter how much you guard against it.
Journalist Chris Hedges, who refused to take part in the Pentagon's press pool in Kuwait and ended up detained by the Iraqi Republican Guard for a week as a result, says in an excellent article in Editor & Publisher that only a handful of reporters in Iraq really care about the conflict. The rest
just want to be hotel-room warriors, don't want to get anywhere near the fighting. The 10% that tries to get out will be stomped on. We saw that with Doug Struck, The Washington Post correspondent, when he tried to investigate civilian casualties in Afghanistan, by the U.S. military. He was made to lie down with a gun pointed to his head.
In softer terms, Gralnick says the same thing, imploring: "Remember also, you are not being embedded because that sweet old Pentagon wants to be nice. You are being embedded so you can be controlled and in a way isolated."

NOTE: If you encounter journalism--weblogs, reporters, foreign news services--featuring non-embedded voices in the Middle East, please email me (click on my name, below). Thanks.

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