Michael Yon has a rather cutting article about how the military is failing to make it easy for journalists who want to report on the war in Iraq:
Who suffers? Firstly, we are losing the war in part because we are losing public support for it. We are losing public support for it in part because there are so few reports that demonstrate enough progress being made and enough reasons to continue to fight until Iraqis are able to go it alone. Secondly, the soldiers suffer because their stories are not being told. Fox News, which reaches millions, just turned down an embed simply because they don’t want their cameras and computers stolen, and they need to actually work when they aren’t guarding their gear. Unlike yours truly, Fox News has deadlines to meet.
To be fair, CENTCOM does seem to understand that the media is one of the battlefields in this conflict, but the reality is that if we’re going to win, we’re going to need to do a lot more. Granted, most journalists are not approaching this conflict with an open mind. The Standard Model of Iraq has already been formed, and that’s that it’s worse than Vietnam and an unwinnable morass. The problem is that Standard Model was formed because the media is largely reliant on the terrorists for information. Many of the carbombings in Baghdad are timed to provide for maximum media exposure: the terrorists know that what bleeds leads, and they’re not afraid to utilize their connections with the media to increase the exposure of their acts.
We need to be doing the same thing — actively working to present all the facets of this conflict. The US military should have journalists and military public relations specialists working hand-in-hand in every base in Iraq. Instead of treating reporters like dirt, they should get treated like royalty. Yes, that’s probably not a good thing from a morale standpoint, and yes, some journalists are hardly worth the effort. But winning the media end of this war is going to require more than just boots on the ground. It’s going to involve making sure that the enemy doesn’t get to shape the story of what’s going on in Iraq.
Yon is right: we’re losing this war in large part because the American people only get one side of the story and that side is shaping the overall perception of the war. The blame for that doesn’t just rest on the media, but the inaction of government and military officials. During the war, the embedding program worked well, but after the war that program appears to have gone off to one side. It’s understandable that commanders in the field would be reticent to allow more media access, but in the nature of 21st Century warfare, ceding the media battlefield to the enemy is no more tactically wise than ceding any battlefield to the enemy.