Cheap-skate Media Stilts Iraq Coverage

By J.D. Johannes

Bruce Kesler, writing in Editor & Publisher asks, “Is the Media Covering Iraq On the Cheap?”

As one who has been an embedded reporter in Iraq, I would answer in the affirmative.

Kesler writes, “Ironically, the same media that criticizes the U.S. for sending too few troops to stabilize Iraq send too few reporters to cover much more than the dramatic bombings around Baghdad.”

In the Spring of 2005 embedded with a Platoon of U.S. Marines bound for Fallujah. I lived in containerized housing units with two Sergeants, went on nearly every mission, slept in the dirt and lined up in the stack as they raided target houses.

I can name all the other reporters I met last Summer–because their were so few of them. I actually met more radio talk show hosts than major media reporters.

Kesler continues writing:

“If truth is journalism’s goal, cheapness within journalism undermines it. Embedded reporter Paul McLeary wrote in Columbia Journalism Review not long ago, “In Iraq, the untold stories pile up, one by one by one,” because “there just aren’t enough of them [journalists] to give the conflict its due.”

Most of the reporters I met in Fallujah were only doing fly-ins.

They would catch a ride on one of the nightly helicopter flights from Baghdad, interview the Commanding General, or the Regimental Commander, spend a few hours in the city, usally around the CMOC and fly out again.

That is not embedding. That is the definition of the drive-by media.

Some may say that there is “growing resistance” to embeds, but I experienced the opposite.

When I approached the 1st Marine Division Public Affairs Officer with my idea and contracts to deliver news reports to local TV stations, they shepherded me through the process.

The Public Affairs Staff of the Second Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD) in Camp Fallujah was very open and accomodating. The CPIC staff in Camp Victory Baghdad did everything they could to help me, even negotiating a way for me to observe the Central Criminal Court in Baghdad.

The only guideance and restrictions were: When you are exposed to sensitive information, don’t divulge it, wear your body armor and do what the Platoon Commander and NCO’s tell you to do in a tactical situation.

Other than that, I was free to see and do as I pleased.

But there are very few journalists doing what I did.

As Kesler notes:

“Media bureaus in Baghdad now operate largely through inexpensive Iraqi stringers.”

Because the media only engages in drive-by forays outside of their fortified Baghdad hotels, they are missing just about everything that happens in Iraq other than the weekly car bombings.

The culprit, according to Kesler is the cost of sending reporters to Iraq, particularly the hazard pay premium (if any) and the insurance policies.

In other words, the bottom line has affected the quality of news gathering. And with the profit margins of the major media dwindling, the first thing to get cut is the product offered to consumers.

But I see it another way.

If I can make money going to Iraq as a one person shop, and Michael Yon, Bill Roggio and Michael Totten can report from Iraq with support only from tip jars on their blogs, then there is obviously a market for news beyond the weekly car bombing.

Perhaps the financial woes of the major media could be solved if they provided something the news consuming public wanted: unbiased, insightful news.

J.D. Johannes is a film maker and proprietor of the blog facesfromthefront.com.

6 Responses to “Cheap-skate Media Stilts Iraq Coverage”

  1. Jen Says:

    I gave up on the MSM.

    It’s cheap to have a bunch of talking heads shouting at each other, but I don’t think very many people like watching that.

    If they actually spent time and $ reporting, and weren’t biased, I might go back.

  2. Frank Says:

    Logistics and costs are fair points to make, but I honestly don’t think that’s the entire story behind the limited MSM coverage in Iraq.

    Ask yourself how much domestic newsgathering in the U.S. is done electronically, without the need for a reporter to be on site (we can argue such an approach has other problems, but that’s another topic for discussion).

    I believe that, were they really inclined to do so, reporters working from offices in the U.S. could find ways of making contact with military and civilians throughout Iraq. Ironically, from the safety of home, they’d presumably be even more free to present both sides of the story.

    But “inclined to do so” is the key phrase here. The combination of increasingly ideological news-as-propaganda that’s coming not just from reporters but from editors and executives in news organizations on one end, and the trivialization and news-as-entertainment profit drive on the other have hopelessly distorted the goals and frankly all but destroyed the MSM credibility. I no longer trust, even factually, what I read in newspapers or have read to me through a teleprompter after years of selective omissions, plagiarism and deliberate misrepresentations.

  3. Kirk Says:

    Frank has a point.

    I have read about a military opertion called Divids (sp?) that is a system of satellite uplinks from major bases the media could use.

    The media could at least station reporters at the major bases in Iraq use the military satellites and avoid the dangers of sending reporters out on patrols with the military, but still increase news content.

    So when something goes down in Ramadi, the local stringers could cover one aspect and the reporter at the base in Ramadi could file a report as well interviewing the commanders and soldiers on the scene.

  4. Media Hound Says:

    The “mainstream” media shortcomings on reporting Operation Iraqi Freedom extend beyond financial — they are afraid to get hurt.

    A “war correspondent” who is afraid to get hurt, and therefore resorts to “reporting” on the conflict from a Baghdad hotel room, is in the wrong business.

    If “war correspondents” refuse to enter the fray, it’s only fair that they preface EVERY report from Iraq with: “We were unable to verify the information in this report, and instead relied on second-hand information from Iraqi stringers in the field.”

    Optionally, but equally accurate, they might add: “Our coverage will focus almost exclusively on explosions detonated by terrorists, thus enabling their limited offensive capabilities to have the most propaganda impact, and ensuring their continued occurrence.”

  5. Ron Says:

    If Johannes, Yon, Totten & Roggio are willing to run around Iraq as independent members of the New Media, and if the MSM is afraid to get hurt, why don’t they just hire Johannes, Yon, Totten and Roggio?

  6. Donna Haney Says:

    I appreciate what J.D. is doing. I am a Mom of one of the Marines in 2005 he was with. Faces From The Front was great. To you, J.D., Keep up the good work and it was a pleasure meeting you last October.