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[infowar.de] WPO 23.03.03: 'Unilaterals,' Crossing the Lines
Der Effekt ist wohl beabsichtigt.
'Unilaterals,' Crossing the Lines
Reporters Who Venture Out on Their Own Can Find the Going Deadly
By Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 23, 2003; Page F01
KUWAIT CITY, March 22
"Do not move," Maj. Dave Anderson, a burly U.S. Marine, barked into his
cell phone. "Stay under cover. Stay down. We have your grid coordinates."
Anderson wasn't giving orders to a fellow Marine -- he was trying to assist
a journalist under fire somewhere in the south of Iraq. "Do you have any
family you want us to notify?" He was working in the coalition media center
at the beachfront Hilton Kuwait Resort, some 80 miles below the Iraqi
border. "Call back every three hours."
Throughout the day, military spokesmen like Anderson -- who usually arrange
propagandistic photo ops and arid briefings -- found themselves in the
thick of an unmanageable story. It involved drama, danger and death,
because such is the nature of war. But the focus here became the media
itself and a persistent dilemma: Should reporters risk their lives to get a
Stuck behind the front lines, frustrated and bored, scores of independent
journalists -- dubbed "unilaterals" by coalition commanders -- have poured
into Iraq without official consent. The Kuwaiti government says that's illegal.
Is it? "At a minimum, it's not very bright," Army Col. Guy Shields,
director of the Coalition Press Information Center, said at a briefing tonight.
An unspecified number of enterprising reporters forged Kuwaiti permission
letters or otherwise cajoled their way past checkpoints into the war zone.
Now they're being shot at, straying into minefields and apparently getting
The casualties evidently include three members of a British ITV television
team reported missing by their employers. In his somber briefing, Shields
confirmed that three reporters in southern Iraq were either killed or
seriously injured today. He repeatedly rebuked the unilaterals for
"sneaking" into Iraq, but many reporters say they were waved through by
friendly U.S. or British troops, then followed convoys operating near Umm
Qasr, Basra and other front-line areas.
"I just want to keep people safe," Shields said, sounding genuinely
concerned as well as irritated. "A battlefield is not safe."
A week ago, Shields pledged to unilaterals that they would be escorted into
the battle zone as soon as commanders deemed it "benign." But competitive
pressures, egos and a desire to independently test coalition claims spurred
a rush to the border soon after the bombing started. After all, if the
military deems an area safe, that means the opportunity for bang-bang
footage has passed.
Tensions between the military's regimental mind-set and the typically
freewheeling culture of journalism have been evident here for weeks. More
than 500 correspondents elected to officially "embed" with the troops,
chronicling their movements firsthand and working under military
protection. But 1,445 reporters, by the latest count, obtained credentials
Many sent up an ethical flag: They didn't want to be co-opted or leashed in
any way. They also wanted to see the big picture, not the small slice
offered to the embedded correspondents. Milling around at the Hilton and
other hotels, watching vivid reports on CNN and other networks, their
impatience grew, especially as the military served up trips like the one
today -- a visit to a mail processing center for the troops.
As for heading to the front, "I'm sure some are getting pressure from
editors," said Bill Gasperini, radio correspondent for the Canadian
Broadcasting Corp. He felt no such pressure, he added, yet doesn't fault
those who made a dash for the border. "The story isn't here. It's
instinctive to want to cover the story up there."
When actual news breaks here, the coalition press center is slow to
respond. On Thursday night, two Iraqi missiles -- later described as
Chinese Silkworm or Seersucker surface-to-ship missiles launched from 60
miles away -- streaked past the Hilton and landed harmlessly in the Persian
Gulf, not far from a major oil refinery. Military officials here saw them
with their own eyes -- the deepest attacks so far into Kuwait. But they
eluded coalition radar, and facts were scarce.
"At the press desk I was told to call the Kuwaitis for information," said
Bob Gee, a Cox newspapers correspondent working from the Hilton. "But
earlier in the day they had no problem telling us about the missiles shot
down by the coalition's Patriot missile batteries."
At his briefing, Shields described three separate instances today in which
press officers received calls from correspondents "screaming for help." He
also said coalition forces assisted in the "extraction" of a convoy of 24
journalists in 12 vehicles. But journalists said that was spin; some called
for help but others returned to safety on their own.
A reporter asked whether anyone traveling without authorization into Iraq
-- such as the ITV team -- would lose their credentials.
"I think revoking their credentials would be irrelevant at this point," he
The news of media casualties stirred some veteran war correspondents to
chide their risk-taking colleagues. "It's not child's play," said Milka
Pavlicevic, an editor with Germany's ZDF television. "It is war."
She was turned back at a northern checkpoint a few days ago and decided to
wait until it was safer to travel into Iraq. "I'm so sad today," she said.
"Guys get crazy, I don't know why. They are naive.
"I won't risk my life, because it's not worth it. I don't want to be famous
for covering a war."
Like a lot of journalists stuck at the Hilton here tonight, she is far more
content just to be alive.
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