Information Warfare: Editorial Misjudgment

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July 1, 2009: For the last four years, the U.S. Department of Defense has been having problems getting their story out in Iraq. The mass media stopped sending their first string talent there, even though Iraq still got a lot of attention. The problem back then was that the place was very dangerous for journalists. If they wanted to get around, with a degree of safety, they had to embed (travel with an American military unit.) Some did this. But until the last year or so, most preferred to stay in a safe zone and let Iraqi or Arab assistants go out and collect story material. Some just take whatever handouts the military offers and cobble together stories from that. This doesn't help the military much. The basic problem is that the reporters are looking for gloom and doom stories. That's pretty normal anywhere, but the military knows that their combat commanders are very popular with the folks back home, and would like to get them on the evening news. Opinion surveys back in the states showed that military officers are among the most trusted groups out there (much more so than journalists.) 

The solution to this problem is seen as making it easier, and safer, for more journalists to get out to where the troops are, without being embedded. Journalists don't like the embed solution, because they get to know the troops they are with too well, begin to identify with them, and have a harder time doing stories criticizing what the troops are doing. So military public affairs officers (PAOs) have asked for more journalist support resources. This would involve personal security for individual journalists, transportation (helicopters, armored vehicles, or even a boat), and access to an Internet link so they could upload their video. The brass are reluctant to go this route, because there are far more journalists who would ask for this, than could be accommodated (there is, after all, a war going on.) The journos who get left out will not be happy, and some of those who go will likely run anti-military stories anyway. But the PAOs believe it should at least be tried on as large a scale as possible.

Meanwhile, PAO must increasingly deal journalists who arrive in Iraq or Afghanistan, with their minds already made up (usually in a negative sense.) Back home, many media people (both journalists and entertainment types) tend to believe that going into Iraq was a mistake, that whatever victory was won there wasn't worth it, and that Afghanistan is a disaster, no matter what. These reporters don't get on well with the troops, who have no trouble scanning the web to see what this reporter writes about. By now, the troops are aware of how many journalists twist reality to fit their editors view of what is happening. This leads to some entertaining exchanges between troops and reporters, that very rarely make the nightly news or appear in any print media.

 


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