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.