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[infowar.de] Harpers 07.07.06: "I Was a Mouthpiece for the American Military"
I Was a Mouthpiece for the American Military
An embedded TV producer's frank assessment
Posted on Friday, July 7, 2006. By
In an interesting interview published this week in
Newsweek's Rod Nordland spoke about the difficulties of reporting from
Iraq. He said that the Bush Administration has been largely successful in
managing the news to the extent that most Americans are not aware of just
how dire it is and how little progress has been made and revealed that some
embedded reporters have been blacklisted because the military wasnâ??t
happy with [their] work.
Many embedded reporters have managed to do fine work from Iraq, but there
are significant obstacles for even the best and most determined
journalists. I recently spoke with a former senior TV producer for Reuters
who worked in Iraq between 2003 and 2004. The producer, who asked that she
not be identified by name, arrived in Tikrit soon after the capture of
Saddam Hussein on December 13, 2003, and was embedded with American troops
for 45 days. She told me that, over the years, she has worked closely with
the French army, NATO troops in the Balkans, and UN peacekeepers in
covering war and conflict, but she said had never faced the sorts of
restrictions imposed by the Pentagon on journalists in Iraq. I was, she
said, a mouthpiece for the American military.
In Tikrit, she was based with U.S. troops at a military compound
established at one of Saddam's former palaces, where she provided pool
coverage for Reuters TV and AP TV (which was fed to other media outlets).
When insurgents attacked civilians, she told me, the American military
would rush her to the scene so she could record the carnage and get shots
of grieving Iraqis.
When it came to other stories that were clearly sympathetic to the U.S.
side, such as funerals for American soldiers killed in combat, the U.S.
military was extremely helpful?indeed, encouraging. In such cases, she was
granted full access and allowed to film speeches by officials honoring the
dead, the posthumous awarding of medals, and other aspects of the ceremony.
But when this producer wanted to pursue a story that might have cast the
war effort in an unfavorable light, the situation was entirely different.
Every few days, she said, she would receive a call from theÂ Reuters
bureau in Baghdad and discover that reporters there had heard, via local
news reports or from the bureau's network of Iraqi sources, about civilians
being killed or injured by American troops. But when she asked to leave the
compound to independently confirm such incidents, her requests were
invariably turned down.
Reuters had an armored car, she told me, and we wanted to go out on our
own, but I would ask the PIO [Public Information Officer] for permission
and he would say he needed to get more information before we could go.
Hours would pass, it would get dark?and in the end we were never able to
get to the scene. Even getting an on-camera comment from a military
spokesman was impossible in such cases, she said.
The producer said that it was impossible to pursue stories frowned upon by
the military?for example, on how the local population viewed the occupation
and American troops?because she was not permitted to leave the base on her
own. The height of absurdity came when the Tikrit compound came under
serious attack one evening and the producer was asked by the Reuters bureau
in Baghdad to phone in a report on the situation. We couldn't find out
anything [from the U.S. military], she said, so Reuters had to cover the
fighting from Baghdad, despite having a TV producer and reporter on the
ground at the compound in Tikrit.
The producer frequently filmed foot patrols and nighttime raids. She said
that for the latter, the military and the embedded journalists would drive
for long stretches in pitch darkness. The raids themselves, she said, were
blurry and confusing, and afterwards soldiers would round up suspected
insurgents and sympathizers for interrogation. It was routine for the
producer to wait in one room of a house while detainees were questioned in
another. Not always, but there were times when I would hear detainees
screaming during the questioning, she said. I'm not sure what was happening
but they were screaming loudly?they weren't just being slapped around.
Because she obviously was not permitted to film the interrogations, none of
that material could be included in her pool feeds.
She and the other journalists stationed at the base in Tikrit grew cynical
about their work and came to believe that they were being used. Other
reporters in Iraq, she said, especially local Iraqis [working for Western
outlets], were able to get both sides of the story, but we were getting
only one side. During her 45 days in Tikrit, she told me, she didn't file a
single story critical of the American project in Iraq. There was no
balance, she said. What we were doing wasn't real journalism.