[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[infowar.de] NYT 23.03.03: Reporters Respond Eagerly to Pentagon Welcome Mat
March 23, 2003
Reporters Respond Eagerly to Pentagon Welcome Mat
By TODD S. PURDUM and JIM RUTENBERG
WASHINGTON, March 22 ? Last fall, the White House chief of staff, Andrew H.
Card Jr., likened the Bush administration's drive to build support for the
possible war with Iraq to a product-marketing campaign. That effort
produced mixed results, but so far the war itself is selling like beer on a
troopship, thanks in part to compelling news accounts from reporters
bunking with frontline units.
Carefully devised by the Pentagon to counter years of complaints by news
organizations about restrictions on combat coverage, the new policy of
"embedding" more than 500 reporters with invading troops has produced
riveting images of fighter jets on carriers and tanks plowing across the
Iraqi desert, accompanied by household faces like Ted Koppel of ABC's
"Nightline," and of surrendering Iraqi soldiers with their hands held high.
Like the most sophisticated Madison Avenue marketers, Pentagon planners
have also reached out to diverse outlets where public opinion is shaped, by
including reporters from MTV, Rolling Stone, People magazine and Men's
Health, and foreign journalists running the gamut from Al Jazeera, the
Arabic-language television channel, to Russia's Itar-Tass news agency.
But for all the military's orchestration, news organizations have so far
expressed satisfaction with the arrangements, which offer much greater
access in exchange for relatively few restrictions. And the bulk of the
coverage has been so positive as to verge on celebratory.
Dave Sirulnick, the executive in charge of MTV News, whose correspondent
Gideon Yago recently asked a young marine, "Dude, how was it to tell your
wife that you were going off to the Iraqi border?" said he was not sure of
the Pentagon's motivation. "But I do know that by allowing their soldiers
to speak openly and freely to us, they are coming off a lot more credibly,"
Mr. Sirulnick said. "Instead of thinking of these guys as G.I. Joes and
Robocops, you get to meet them and see they are young guys and girls just
like the folks who are watching."
Some reporters have been given extraordinary access, allowed to sit in on
secret briefings, watching computerized maps of the battlefield with the
latest satellite photos, in the middle of the Kuwait desert, for example.
The cardinal rule: No reporting, not even any phone calls to their editors,
that might divulge details of future operations, and no private satellite
telephones, cellphones or sidearms. Showers are scarce, hot meals spotty,
but reporters assigned to military units recount friendly, open
conversations with G.I.'s, surgeons, drivers, dentists and communications
experts, described by one correspondent as "quite talkative" and "extremely
interested in what I do."
The new policy has only begun to be tested in battle, and Gen. Tommy R.
Franks, the allied commander in the Persian Gulf, was said by associates to
have been upset to read too many details about planes and missiles in the
war's opening-night raids in his morning newspaper.
The Pentagon's chief spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke, warned editors in a
conference call on Wednesday that some reports had already provided too
much specific information about troop locations and movements, and that
even if commanders on the scene divulged such information, it was up to
news organizations to withhold it under detailed guidelines to which each
agreed in exchange for the reporting berths.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld delivered his first briefing on the
war on Thursday in front of an image of a little girl in pigtails and the
warning: "Don't kill her Daddy with careless words."
But there have been no reports of serious disputes on the scene, and by the
end of the week Mr. Rumsfeld went so far as to praise the robust reporting
as "historic" and said, "I doubt that in a conflict of this type, there's
ever been the degree of free press coverage as you are witnessing in this
The CNN anchor Aaron Brown made a similar point on the air as tanks sped
across the desert late Thursday. "No matter how you slice this thing, this
is an extraordinary picture of a moment in a war," Mr. Brown said. "This is
not the kind of thing that has ever happened before. The last time American
reporters had really good access to American troops was Vietnam, and by and
large it would be two days before stories got back to the United States and
got on the air."
Then Mr. Brown read an e-mail message from the mother of a tank commander
in the Seventh Cavalry, who wrote, "Thank you for allowing me to sit with
my son as he crossed the desert in Iraq." Mr. Brown replied, "Rosemary, I'm
glad we could show you your guy out there tonight."
Mr. Rumsfeld approved the policy, devised last year by Ms. Clarke and
others, in a sharp about-face from the system that prevailed in the first
Persian Gulf war, when only about 180 reporters at a time had limited
access to the front in a rotating system. That system was much criticized
by most news media organizations and some military experts, as were
comparable limitations during the Afghan campaign in 2001.
The new policy "kind of evolved," through discussions between Pentagon
officials and news organizations, said Bryan G. Whitman, deputy assistant
secretary of defense for media operations, who coordinated the system.
"We recognized early on that we needed to make truth an issue should there
be a military campaign, because Saddam Hussein was a practiced liar, a
master of deception, and the way you mitigate that is to have objective
third-party accounts from professional observers," he said. "We also
believed Americans deserved to see exactly how well trained their military
forces were, how dedicated and professional."
The Pentagon's guidelines, signed by each attached journalist, allow
reporting of general troop strength and casualty figures, confirmed figures
of enemy soldiers captured and broad information about previous combat
actions. Reporters are barred from divulging specifics about troop
movements and locations, unless authorized. The identities of wounded or
killed Americans may not be reported for 72 hours, or until next of kin can
be notified, and local commanders may impose embargoes to protect operations.
Evan Wright, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, joined troops in the
Persian Gulf about three weeks ago. Stu Zakim, a spokesman for the
magazine, said Pentagon planners were aware not only of the magazine's long
history of liberalism but also of its young readership.
"They recognize the interesting logic of giving Rolling Stone access,
considering that we're not exactly supportive of President Bush in anything
he does," Mr. Zakim said.
Steve Rubenstein, president of Rubenstein Communications, which has advised
various foreign governments on how to deal with the American news media,
called the policy "a brilliant idea."
"It helps create empathy between the reporters and their subjects," he
said, "and I think that in the end that will make it easier for the
Pentagon to communicate what it is trying to do."
Marvin Kalb, the veteran CBS News correspondent who is now a senior fellow
at the Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard,
said: "I think the embedding strategy is a gutsy, risky call for Rumsfeld,
and his fingerprints are all over it. He believes that one must enlist the
support of the American people, and the way you get that is to get the media."
The early reports have been unusually frank. Jason Bellini of CNN filed a
painfully raw report at midweek about a young private named Polanco with
the 15th Marine Expeditionary Force in Kuwait who complained of feeling
faint, unable to carry his pack, and of missing his family. "He's just kind
of having a hard time right now," a fellow marine explained.
Not all the coverage has been glowing. As American networks showed the
march of tanks Friday morning, a BBC correspondent was broadcasting an
interview with a man in Jordan who is opposed to the war. The man described
the solidarity that nearby protesters felt with their "brothers in Iraq"
who they felt were being tortured.
Robert J. Thompson, a professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse
University, said, "When all is said and done, what the military has done
with embedding has essentially cast the journalist into the drama of this
war they are producing.
"Just like you would pick people to be on your reality TV show. This is
like `Real World Iraq.' "
But Kenneth Bacon, the Pentagon spokesman in the Clinton administration,
said: "How the public perceives the war can't really be affected by
governmental spin. It's affected by results. If we do well, people will
understand that, and if we do badly, people will understand that, too."
Mail an infowar -
- infopeace -
de mit "unsubscribe" im Text.