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The Media Goes to War

Does war reporting help or hurt the coalition's effort in Iraq?

April 8, 2003

Does war reporting help or hurt the coalition's effort in Iraq?

Journalism and the military have always had an uneasy relationship. The military has an interest in spreading success stories, while serious journalists want to show how a conflict affects friends and foes alike. The so-called embedded journalists — who move right along with the coalition troops in Iraq — pose new challenges. Our Read My Lips examines how journalism is changing.

Why have some news agencies been hesitant about sending out war correspondents?

“I think it's partly Vietnam. When the dust settled, dozens of American reporters and photographers were killed — and it wasn’t worth it.”

(John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine, April 2003)

Why do war correspondents take so many risks?

“There is often an unspoken pressure from base to produce pictures — and take the extra risk. So a journalist thinks, ‘if that city is open maybe I should be on the first truck in’.”

(Peter McIntyre, author of Live News: the Survival Guide for Journalists, April 2003)

Does the United States rely on non-U.S. journalists for its Iraq coverage?

“British reporters are becoming for United States news organizations what the Ghurka troops were to the British Army — braver and better.”

(Alessandra Stanley, New York Times writer, April 2003)

Should war correspondents have a sense of humor?

“Trying to report a war without irony is a bit like trying to keep sex out of a discussion of the relations between men and women.”

(Michael Arlen, then-television critic for The New Yorker, on the Vietnam war in the 1960s)

How objective are the media of the coalition forces?

“I am deeply suspicious. Most of the false reports have been to the advantage of the coalition forces.”

(Martin Bell, former BBC war correspondent and independent Member of the House of Commons, March 2003)

Can the U.S. administration afford to spread misinformation?

“The one thing about the press corps is that they know a lot of stuff.”

(Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary, May 2002)

How quick are the embedded journalists with their stories?

“The military guys at the Pentagon are frustrated because they know we are asking questions about things they won’t know about through their channels for hours — or days.”

(John McWethy ABC chief national security correspondent, April 2003)

How is the relationship between journalists and the military?

“We are suffering at one and the same time from a briefing overload — and an information deficit.”

(Jonathan Marcus, BBC defense correspondent, February 2003)

How do those who stayed at home think about their embedded colleagues?

“I thought it was going to reduce me to irrelevance — but it doesn’t. No one is out there with the big picture. I’m the big-picture guy.”

(David Martin, CBS Pentagon correspondent, April 2003)

Is war coverage a coveted post?

“When even weathermen are predicting rain in Kirkuk, it’s clear everyone must get into the act.”

(Frank Rich, New York Times columnist, March 2003)

Why do U.S.-based journalists still enjoy an advantage over their colleagues in the field?

“Riding around in a tank is fun, but you don’t know about what’s going on.”

(John McWethy, ABC chief national security correspondent, April 2003)

And finally, can ignorance be bliss sometimes?

“Had the public been able to see live reports from the trenches, I wonder for how long the governments of Asquith and Lloyd George could have maintained the war effort. But could the “spirit of Dunkirk”, so important to national survival, have withstood the scrutiny of 24-hour live news?”

(British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, April 2003)