Monday, January 7, 2008

The New York Crimes Reports: "News Coverage Of The War Is Better Now...That The Military Is Back In Control Of The News Media"

(General BetrayUs, "thumbs up" to the news media!)

The New York Crimes reports on the "improving relationship" between the news media and the military.

WASHINGTON — The anguished relationship between the military and the news media appears to be on the mend as battlefield successes from the troop increase in Iraq are reflected in more upbeat news coverage. According to the military, the anguished relationship was caused by the media's accurate reporting.

Efforts from the new Pentagon leadership, as well as by top commanders at the headquarters in Baghdad, have also eased tensions between reporters and those in uniform, although there were only tensions between top military commanders and the news media's accurate reporting, not with those in uniform. Positive or negative, the troops’ view of the news media is set as much by the tone of commanders as by the tenor of individual news clips.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior American officer in Iraq, and his subordinates have worked hard to convey the rationale for their strategy and the evidence that persuades them it is succeeding. They have to "persuade them" because it's not true. General BetrayUs is going to change his name to "General PersuadeUs". Adm. Mike Mullen, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has engaged reporters in a variety of venues: at the Pentagon, on travels across the United States and overseas, including the Middle East. Adm. Mullen is teaching the news media how to report the war. They don't know how to, according to him. Otherwise, he wouldn't be "engaging" them in anything!

And, perhaps most important, their boss, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, has stated a view never heard from his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld. “The press is not the enemy,” Mr. Gates tells military audiences, including at the service academies, “and to treat it as such is self-defeating.” Implying, among other things, that Rumsfeld did in fact say the press was the enemy.

At the start of the Iraq war, decades of open hostilities between the military and news media dating from Vietnam were forgotten, if only for a brief and shining moment. That brief and shining moment was when Judith Miller of the New York Times wrote false stories that Iraq had WMD's. One reason was the embed program for the Iraq invasion that placed hundreds of reporters from across the journalistic spectrum into combat units. Soldiers and correspondents shared tents, meals and risks, and both sides said that perhaps their differences were not irreconcilable after all. Making objective, unbiased reporting impossible. That was another brief and shining moment of forgotten hostilities between the news media and the military. According to the top military commanders, all the brief and shining moments of no hostilities between the news media and the military were when the news media was reporting what the military wanted them to report, while "embedded".

Then, however, the success of the lightning-quick invasion became not the full story, but merely the early chapter of a frustrating and deadly narrative of war in Iraq. That's the part when the top military commanders said there were hostilities between the news media and the military.

As insurgent violence rose in 2003, echoes of that earlier conflict in Southeast Asia could be heard. The echoes of reporting reality, instead of what the military wanted them to report. The downturn accelerated with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in 2004. The downturn occurred when the news media reported it. The credibility of the armed forces fell even further in the eyes of reporters when it was disclosed that military contractors in Baghdad had paid Iraqi reporters for stories in the local news media. And the hostilities between the news media and the military took a further downturn when the news media reported that, too.

In return, the military’s familiar complaints resumed: There is no coverage of the good news from Iraq, officers said. The focus is on violence and daily casualty counts, and not progress. Reporters cannot or will not get out and about in Iraq to tell the whole story, because it's too dangerous. Editors and reporters are biased, according to us, because they aren't reporting what we want them to report. We're supposed to tell them what to report, and they report that. Not what they see.

As recently as October, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who had served as the first commander of the Iraq occupation, came out of retirement to condemn coverage of the war. It was called "The Gen. Sanchez Farewell Tour". I have a t-shirt from it.

“The death knell of your ethics has been enabled by your parent organizations who have chosen to align themselves with political agendas,” General Sanchez said in comments that earned far less coverage than his equally harsh statement that the Bush administration had mismanaged the war, although you can't get any worse of a story than a General stating that a president is mismanaging a war.

“What is clear to me,” General Sanchez told a media group, Military Reporters and Editors, “is that you are perpetuating the corrosive partisan politics that is destroying our country and killing our service members who are at war. If you reported what we tell you to report, then you wouldn't be reporting that our service members are being killed because of a president mismanaging a war, and it would seem like they weren't getting killed. So, they're getting killed because you're reporting that they're getting killed."

Just days earlier, in his valedictory address as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace used his final minutes as the nation’s highest-ranking officer to describe how his interactions with Congress and the news media had soured him on both. He stepped down because the war was going very badly.

“In some instances right now we have individuals who are more interested in making somebody else look bad than they are in finding the right solution, and those individuals are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney,” General Pace said.

Yet, as the tone of news reporting from Iraq has shifted in recent months from reality to what the military wants the news media to report, so have the views commonly heard from officers in Iraq.

Recent interviews with dozens of military officers in Iraq found a sense of frustration that the war was receiving less coverage than they would like — they'd rather the war receive more coverage than for it to be over and be home...according to military officers... - but a sense nonetheless that the coverage was forthright and balanced.

“The media in general is doing a pretty good job portraying the situation, because they have gone back to the Judith Miller-style of lying and biased reporting we tell them to report” said Lt. Col. Rodger Lemons, operations officer for the First Cavalry Division’s Fourth Brigade Combat Team.

Interviewed last month in Mosul as he was completing a 15-month tour, his 5th one, Colonel Lemons said: “Spectacular attacks still get the big media attention. I would like to see more good news, there isn't any. Who wouldn’t? But the reporters who have embedded with us have been fair, meaning they are reporting what we want, because we protect them. They only report from our point of view, they can't be objective because they're 'embedded' with us. They cannot report from the point of view of the Iraqi civilians.

In a study of last year’s published news reports conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism at the Pew Research Center, more than half of all coverage of Iraq was found to be pessimistic, realistic, and factual. The view of American policy and military progress was mixed over all, with 4 in 10 pieces offering a mixed assessment, one-third a negative view and one-quarter more optimistic. Reporting is a "bell-curve" system. If reality is negative, it must be balanced off with fake positive stories, even if the reality isn't balanced, the reporting must have an equal balance of positive and negative stories.

The troop increase ordered by President Bush in January began to show results over the summer, such as more troops missing another Christmas on their 5th tours of over-extended duty in a war that was guaranteed to last a few weeks, and improving trends in security have received commensurate coverage. The Pew researchers found that positive assessments of the expanded American military operations began to rise in November. Still assumming that the news media were previously lying, and weren't reporting the "positive assessments".

“It is obvious that many of the stories in print and television now have a more positive tenor; we're looking for stories to have a more positive tenor, irregardless of what is actually happening; it ties directly to what we've been telling them is happening on the ground,” said Lt. Col. James Hutton, public affairs officer for Multinational Corps-Iraq and the spokesman for Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of day-to-day military operations.

“I’m satisfied that the majority of reporters on the ground want to get the story right the way we tell them and are responsive when we tell them their reporting is seen as less than accurate and we call them on it,” said Colonel Hutton, who is nearing the end of his second tour of duty in Iraq.

Setting the tone of how the military wants the news media to report the war from the top, General Petraeus decided that managing the military’s media mission (isn't he admitting it right there??? they're "managing" the news media???) required a high-ranking career public affairs officer, and he assigned Rear Adm. Greg Smith, previously chief of information for the Navy, to be director of communications for Multinational Force-Iraq, the top military command structure in the country. The news media is now back in control of the military, like at the beginning of the war. We're thinking of hiring Judith Miller back.

Admiral Smith, the first one-star public affairs propaganda officer in Baghdad, acknowledged that troops who had previously served in Iraq “may have lived through a time when it seemed that all that was being reported was negative news, even though they were doing so much good on any given day that was not being reported. They're now living through a time when we have the news media back under our control, like at the beginning of the war. And I literally mean, it's the same guys living through it. They're not ever going home!

“I think there was a period time in the past in which the military said the reporting was behind reality,” Admiral Smith said. “Today, according to us, that gap between perception and reality has closed , if not completely. Because the news media is reporting what we want them to report. When things are 'going well' between the news media and the military, you can be sure they're reporting what we want them to report. That's a tip for you, for the future. Don't forget it!

Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, public affairs officer for Multinational Division-Baghdad for the past 15 months, described one concern heard often from officers in Iraq — the lack of reporters covering the war as it entered another decisive period during the troop increase. There were a lot of decisive periods, because the war is going on for 5 years counting...

“In general, I thought the majority coverage was very accurate and fair, now that we've gotten them back under control” said Colonel Bleichwehl, who has served twice in Iraq, and will serve 3 more times. “There were not always enough reporters there who reported what we wanted them to report full-time to provide the complete story we wanted them to of what was going on in a city with seven million people, much less the rest of the country, but now we've got 'our guys' in there...again...

(Admiral Mike Mullen, "thumbs up" for the news media!)
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