"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." Bertrand Russell

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Truth in permanent care

"They keep telling us that in war truth is the first casualty, which is nonsense since it implies that in times of peace truth stays out of the sick bay or the graveyard." (Alexander Cockburn)

In the media, an embedded journalist is a one who works within and under the control of one side's army in a military conflict. (1)

The purpose of this recent change in war reporting is purported to be, for the safety of journalists and for better access to otherwise restricted zones.

The BBC explains their view on this change: "The relationship between the military and the media has always been uneasy, due mainly to the fact that each has sharply differing aims. While the military sees propaganda as a weapon in itself, a journalist's role is to cut through the half-truths and report both sides of the story."

One would expect those aims to be:
Media: Report the facts, as bias free as possible.
Military: To do the required task set out by it's superiors, as efficiently as possible.

"In the Vietnam war, the tie was stretched to breaking point, with Washington blaming reporters for fuelling anti-war protests. The backlash came in the form of heavy restrictions being slapped on journalists - hence the tight controls in the last Gulf War."

Therefore, in reporting, the media found themselves relaying the horrors of war to a population who considered themselves acclimatized to violence, by years of 'Hollywood' gore, shocked to find that the reality of death to be a 'little' more provocative. They were, obviously from a military stand point, preferred to be kept, eyes closed and fingers in ears.

While embedding simply means, in essence, that the journalist avails of military protection as long as no information that would indanger the lives of troops would be disclosed, it amounts to much more than this.

"While the policy is said to be the brainchild of the Pentagon, British forces have gone along with it. In the US, many reporters were packed off to "boot camps" in the weeks leading up to the war."
Here that very conflict that suposedly sparked tensions during Vietnam is tackled head on by the 'military machine'. The Pentagon decides journalists are better off working closely with the military. No conflict here then.

The BBC's Van Klaveren says the military has maintained a light touch on reporters.
However "There has been no censorship and reporters are not required to submit scripts before broadcast. There are, however, a couple of golden rules - journalists cannot give specific details of locations or outline the future plans of their unit."

What kind of 'touch', is not made clear.

The idea "that the mere fact journalists are so enmeshed with the military makes it difficult for them to think objectively. If your safety is in the hands of soldiers, the argument goes, you will be unwilling to criticise them" is dismissed saying that the teams are "professional enough to maintain independence."

Although "He concedes that if life gets more difficult for the US-led forces, this will put an extra strain on journalists. But if restrictions are imposed, audiences will be told."
How difficult conditions would have to get is not made clear, but evidently there will be a press release once reporting gets censored.

"You know what I saw in El Salvador. A lot of the reporters down there would hang out at the Camino Real Hotel, which is right down the street from the Embassy. And they would not dare say anything that would piss off anyone at the Embassy, because then the Embassy would cut them off from their scoops. You see they would loose their contacts. So they really have to nurture relationships with these power holders and if they do anything without clearing it with them, then they are subject to be squeezed out, and eventually throws their career off track. So it doesn't work like from the top down, it's very systemic."
(From an interview with Stan Goff, a retired US army veteran who taught Military Science and Doctrine at West Point.)

Question: And from what little we can get from the media currently, do you think they are accurately portraying what is happening with...?

Stan Goff: (laughter) The media has never accurately portrayed a military operation as long as I've been involved with this stuff. I've never seen an accurate portrayal to this day, not one. But then again I've never seen an accurate portrayal by the military public affairs officers either. The public is kept pretty much in the dark about how military operations are really conducted and what may be going on now and I think we are all being kept deeply in the dark about Afghanistan right now. I strongly suspect that the collateral damage as they call it is far worse than they are going to allow anyone to know. And it's a dumb operation. It's just not a very smart operation in a lot of ways. I think it's comparable in many respects to Somalia. (3)

"Since the start of the 2003 War on Iraq, there have been 13 incidents involving the killing of journalists by US soldiers. All the journalists who have been killed were "unembedded" journalists. No journalist employed by mainstream media such as the BBC or CNN have been killed or abducted in Iraq...
...The US role in preventing independent news from reaching the public has been widely reported since the invasion of Iraq. Independent journalists were nowhere to see in Iraq, and most of them have been forced to leave the country. The killing of the Italian intelligent agent Nicola Calipari and injuring of Giuliana Sgrena, the award-winning war reporter with the progressive Italian daily newspaper Il Manifesto, by US forces is a case in point..." (5)

Evidence enough that reporters embedded with the US/UK forces are safer than those who choose to stay un-embedded. "This may well be due to the/their [understandable] reticence/reluctance to telling uncomfortable news of war crimes committed by the invader/occupier forces.

Would you agree, that when journalists are 'in bed' with aggressive war criminals the truth is certainly the first casualty of that war?" (4)

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embedded
2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2885179.stm
3. medialens