Outsourcing Combat Reporting to the Enemy
September 25, 2006: U.S. troops continue to be mystified at the odd reporting coming out of Iraq. What the troops witnessed is not what reporters are sending back. The bylines on those stories are American, as are the talking heads they see broadcasting from Baghdad. Some troops attribute the inaccurate reporting to bias, with journalists sending back what they want to be the truth, rather than what is actually happening. The troops see a very different Iraq from the one journalists are reporting.
But the fact of the matter is that few of these journalists are reporting much. On any given day, fewer than a dozen reporters are embedded with combat units, and actually out there. A third or more of these are working for military oriented publications ("Stars and Stripes," Armed Forces Network). Most journalists are in the Green Zone, or some well-guarded hotel. There, they depend on Iraqi stringers to gather information, and take pictures for them. In reality, these reporters could do this from back home, and many more media organizations are doing just that.
Nothing new about using local stringers in dangerous areas. It's common sense, given that the bad guys are in the habit of kidnapping, or just killing, foreign reporters. The problem is, the pool of available Iraqi talent is mostly Sunni Arab. Many of these folks side with the bad guys. And all Iraqi journalists, especially those working for foreigners, are subject to intimidation, or bribery. While some of the foreign reporters may be aware of all this, some aren't, and many of the rest don't care. The truth won't set them free, but supplying stories their editors are looking for, will.
It wasn't always this way, but that's the way it is these days. And, sadly, about the only people to notice the problem are the many troops who have been in Iraq, and don't have an editor telling them what to think, and report.