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[infowar.de] WSJ 26.03.03: Branches Of U.S. Military Fight Over Media Attention In Iraq
Wall Street Journal
March 26, 2003
Branches Of U.S. Military Fight Over Media Attention In Iraq
Armed Services Compete Over Air Time And Credit; A Final Battle Over Budgets?
By Christopher Cooper and David Cloud, Staff Reporters Of The Wall Street
DOHA, Qatar -- As they fly sorties, launch cruise missiles and march to the
outskirts of Baghdad, the various branches of the U.S. military are
battling more than the enemy. They are competing among themselves for
valuable press attention that some believe can later pay off with fatter
budget allocations in Congress.
The friendly and not so friendly rivalries among various U.S. military
branches have long been documented. But that competition has sharpened
during the current conflict, the most publicized war in history, as the
branches battle for air time -- and credit for defeating the enemy. Unlike
the often-skeptical peacetime coverage of the services, war coverage by
journalists living with combat troops is usually livelier and less critical.
For now, as nearly 400 journalists are generating a stream of mostly
positive coverage of its troops, it appears the Army is winning the media war.
In some quarters of the military, there is a school of thought that the
amount of publicity -- especially bad publicity -- affects the amount of
money a particular service gets. Small wonder, then, that many in the
military support embedding, the practice of placing journalists with combat
troops. "I'm a big fan'' of the embed program, said Army Gen. Tommy Franks,
commander of U.S. forces here.
But it seems not everyone is getting a spin on the dance floor. The Air
Force, in particular, has seen relatively modest benefits from embeds,
having lost all but 18 or so of the 83 reporters it had planned to host.
Many Air Force bases are in nations that strictly limit the presence of
journalists because the war is a politically touchy issue among their
Muslim populations. "Do we wish we were getting more coverage? Yes,'' says
Air Force Brig. Gen. Ronald Rand. "Do I think we're getting equal coverage?
No. But I think we're getting a fair amount of coverage, given what we have
to work with.''
Though it is operating from 30 foreign bases in this conflict, the Air
Force has only two airfields in Kuwait open to reporters -- and then, only
under certain local limits, including an admonishment not to name the
country from which the reports are coming. In some other countries, rules
regarding camera angles and photography of background landmarks have
hindered even military photographers documenting missions.
Qatar initially appeared amenable to allowing a few Air Force embeds, and
several of them traveled to Doha, the capital, in anticipation of access.
But officials with U.S. Central Command said the tiny emirate balked at the
last minute, after disclosing that it had never informed its citizens that
air activities were occurring here. Negotiations with the emirate are
"going back and forth,'' said one military official, but he doesn't expect
the situation to change.
The Air Force is even having problems with its closest allies.
British-controlled Diego Garcia, a tiny atoll off the tip of India where
U.S. bombers muster, is off-limits to reporters, just as it was during the
war in Afghanistan.
Now the Air Force is taking its story to the Internet by sending so-called
lipstick cameras up with flight crews and splashing the results on an Air
Force Web site created especially for the war. Gen. Rand says that for the
last two days running, the site (www.af.mil/news/opscenter) has topped all
others in popularity on the Google search engine.
Meanwhile, the 24-hour news channels are bursting with coverage of the U.S.
Army's Third Infantry Division as it churns north toward Baghdad, and most
major U.S. newspapers have chronicled the division's exploits. Since
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made no secret that he would
eventually like to slim down the Army, the heavy media coverage has
especially pleased Army officials.
The Marines, which have about 150 reporters traveling along, are faring
well, too, though there were occasional news blackouts imposed on their
embeds when they battled stiff resistance from Iraqi Army units in the
areas around Basra and Umm Qasr in the southeast. On Sunday, MSNBC, a
24-hour cable-TV news station, devoted more than six hours to dramatic
coverage of Marine units trading shots with Iraqi Republican Guards near
Although the Navy has 141 embeds on ships in the region, it has its own
complaints. Last Thursday, on the opening night of the "shock and awe'' air
attack, Navy officials say Central Command imposed a 12-hour blackout rule
on broadcasts of cruise-missile launchings from sea. The blackout drained
much of the drama and urgency out of the Navy's contribution to the campaign.
Such blackouts normally last only until cruise missiles hit their targets.
Thursday night, the Navy sent up hundreds of cruise missiles from ships and
subs, contributing greatly to the spectacular opening air campaign. But
none of it made the news: The lengthy blackout left 24-hour news stations
to rely on footage from static cameras in Baghdad -- and tape of Army units
racing across the desert that was shot hours before.
Even though the Navy has since eased up on the duration of its blackouts,
it may be too late: More recently, there has been less for cameras to show
on ships, as nighttime bombing sorties have relied increasingly on planes
dropping bombs and coalition forces have sharply curtailed cruise-missile
launchings. Restless news crews stationed on Navy vessels have begun
clamoring to be returned to port so that they can go cover the ground
invasion. "This is the time that we get," one Navy officer said ruefully.
The Army, he said, is "going to get a lot of coverage for weeks."
Despite the military branches' jostling for a place in the media limelight,
one government official says the notion that budget allocations are tied to
publicity is antiquated. When the war is over, the credit will fall equally
over all, says Bryan Whitman, the Defense Department deputy undersecretary
who rode point on the embed program. "The contributions of every service
are going to be well known,'' he says. "We're a combined arms team nowadays.''
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