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[] WPO 23.03.03: 'Webloggers,' Signing On as War Correspondents,

'Webloggers,' Signing On as War Correspondents

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 23, 2003; Page F04

L.T. Smash provided a terse after-action report on one close encounter with 
the Iraqis:

"Saddam fired a couple of those Scuds that he doesn't have at me this 

"He missed."

No need for embedded reporters when you've got a keyboard and a modem. 
"Smash" is the pseudonym of a military officer who is chronicling his 
exploits amid the desert sandstorms -- and getting 6,000 hits a day on his 
Web site.

For all the saturation coverage of the invasion of Iraq, this has become 
the first true Internet war, with journalists, analysts, soldiers, a 
British lawmaker, an Iraqi exile and a Baghdad resident using the medium's 
lightning speed to cut through the fog of war. The result is idiosyncratic, 
passionate and often profane, with the sort of intimacy and attitude that 
are all but impossible in newspapers and on television.

Many of these so-called Weblogs eliminate the middleman -- the news outlets 
whose reach was once needed for a broad audience -- and allow participants 
to have their say, typos and all, without being run through the media's 

"The most interesting thing about the blog coverage is how far ahead it is 
of the mainstream media," says University of Tennessee law professor Glenn 
Reynolds, whose site has seen a surge in traffic as the 
Iraq crisis has heated up, doubling to 200,000 hits a day. "The first-hand 
stuff is great. It's unfiltered and unspun. That doesn't mean it's 
unbiased. But people feel like they know where the bias is coming from. You 
don't have to spend a lot of time trying to find a hidden agenda."

The New Republic is running an online diary by Kanan Makiya, a leading 
Iraqi dissident based in Cambridge, Mass., who, among other things, 
recently met with Vice President Cheney.

"Today there are hundreds -- if not more -- of Iraqis in America, Britain 
and the rest of the diaspora who are quitting their jobs and boarding 
planes to help rebuild their ravaged country," Makiya writes. "With the 
tyrant's destruction finally at hand, I am elated and worried."

Says Chris Orr, the magazine's executive editor: "This is history taking 
place, and he has a unique and extraordinary perspective on that history. 
If Iraq becomes a democracy, Kanan will be one of the founding fathers."

Tom Watson, a British member of Parliament, is blogging on such matters as 
the resignation of the former foreign minister to protest Tony Blair's war 

"Another sleepless night. . . . Yesterday I ended up three down from Robin 
Cook when he made his resignation speech. What I would have done to have 
moved to the end of the row, but once you're in, you're in. His speech was 
typed (so he must have been writing it for some time) and his hands were 
quivering (it must have been very difficult)."

The strength of this new form of communication is the sheer variety of 
voices. Despite some Internet chatter that he might be a disinformation 
agent, a self-described Baghdad resident posting under the name of Salam 
Pax at, is being taken seriously by several Web 

"The all clear siren just went on," he wrote Thursday. "The bombing would 
come and go in waves, nothing too heavy and not yet comparable to what was 
going on in 91. All radio and TV stations are still on and while the air 
raid began the Iraqi TV was showing patriotic songs and didn't even bother 
to inform viewers that we are under attack. At the moment they are 
re-airing yesterday's interview with the minister of interior affairs. The 
sounds of the anti-aircraft artillery is still louder than the booms and 
bangs which means that they are still far from where we live, but the 
images we saw on Al Arabia news channel showed a building burning near one 
of my aunt's house."

Some of the online commentators have a mordant sense of humor. L.T. Smash, 
who often rails about the stupidity of his superiors, posted the following 
memo to Saddam Hussein:

"You may have noted some blasting noises and disconcerting rumbling of the 
ground in your general vicinity over the past several hours. Do not be 
alarmed, these shock waves are the result of a long-planned demolition and 
urban renewal project for the greater Baghdad area."

Smash even provides his own self-interview:

"Q. Can't you get in trouble for this sort of thing? Isn't this a violation 
of Military Regulations?

"A: I'm in the military -- I can get in trouble for just about anything. 
But generally speaking, this form of communication is bound by the same 
rules as e-mail. . . . I am voluntarily observing my own, stricter 
guidelines in regards to operational security."

On another Web site, a 29-year-old Army Reserve officer named Will provides 
regular updates on his mission:

"My Official Army job is Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Weapons 
Specialist (impressive, isn't it). What that really means is that I go in 
after a Nuclear, Chemical or Biological attack, and wash cars and help 
people clean up their gear (in Omaha, my home, that's called Merry Maids). 
It's very detail oriented, and requires a lot of practice because if I, or 
any of my soldiers, make a mistake, it could cost lives."

There are "warblogs" of every conceivable stripe and, inevitably, a 
NoWarBlog, which declared during Friday's bombing of Baghdad:

"W is a war criminal.

"I weep for what W has now done to this nation.

"This looks like an attack with nuclear weapons."

Even some journalists are moonlighting as bloggers. Kevin Sites, a CNN 
correspondent, is posting pictures, audio and commentary on his personal 
Web site from the Kurdish section of Iraq.

"What I'm looking at right now is long line of trucks packed with all kinds 
of belongings of Kurdish people moving north," he writes. CNN told Sites to 
suspend the blog Friday, with spokeswoman Edna Johnson saying that covering 
war "is a full-time job and we've asked Kevin to concentrate only on that 
for the time being."

One benefit of the global electronic village is that Americans who don't 
fully trust their own media can check reports from overseas. In January, 
according to Wired News, half the 1.3 million visitors to the Web site for 
Britain's Guardian and Observer newspapers were from the Americas.

"Given how timid most U.S. news organizations have been in challenging the 
White House position on Iraq, I'm not surprised if Americans are turning to 
foreign news services for a perspective on the conflict that goes beyond 
freedom fries," Wired News quotes former Newsweek contributing editor 
Deborah Branscum as saying.

InstaPundit Reynolds sees bloggers acting as a fact-checking force. "The 
value we add is in unpacking the spin in the media coverage," he says.

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