Sunday, April 06, 2008

Should Reporters Be Expected To Try To See Things For Themselves?

The Sensory Homunculus is an image that shows the relative amount of cerebral cortex surface area given over to processing the different sensory inputs and motor outputs of human nervous system. It is an exactly acurate representation of the human body except that the individual parts are wildly distorted. See M.H.Z.'s comment to this post for what the heck this has to do with anything.

Iraq correspondent Paul McLeary is troubled by the lack of American reporters there relying on first-hand knowledge. (h/t Countercolumn) The easiest way to do this is to embed with a military unit. But:
The fact that I spent four weeks in Iraq and only ran into one stringer working for an American newspaper is testament to how few reporters are out in the field. Of course, there are reporters in Iraq, and my time bouncing between combat outposts constitutes an official census; but it is significant that in every unit I was with, I was the first reporter they had seen. It was the same story back in 2006, when I embedded with the 2nd Marine Division in Fallujah.

He notes cost benefits for reporters in Iraq to embed:

But embedding with infantry units is free. Flights to Kuwait, where the Army public affairs team picks you up and puts you on a military aircraft to Iraq, and insurance still cost, but once you’re embedded, your expenses end.

A couple months ago, embedded journalist, Michael Yon, spoke of the indispensiblity of first-hand reporting:

The best reporting comes from reporters who have spent the most time on the ground here, because the context is complex and evolving. Long distance reporting is like exploring the moon through a telescope.

But anti-war readers are uninterested in reading about the good-guys winning in Iraq. And since that is what appears to be happening right now, if you want to attract a large readership, you need to find stories that EVERYBODY wants to know about: something other than Iraq.

So newpapers are sending fewer of their reporters to Iraq and they are less picky about the ethics of the ones they rely on.

Since the Iraqi Army began its crack-down on Ja'ish Al-Mahdi (JAM), the willingness of the major American media reporters to rely on "trusted sources" as they themselves park in the Green Zone seems to have driven Nibras Kazimi (Talisman Gate) nearly to distraction. He has written 10 posts since March 25th, every one of them decrying bad or malicious reportage and the press's cowerage in the Green Zone, NYC, or Washington D.C. As he said in his last post:

It's been 11 days since Operation Cavalry Charge was launched, and the New York Times and the Washington Post have yet to send one of their eponymous reporters down to Basra. All their news stories about Iraq have been bylined from Baghdad, many hundreds of miles away from the battle and its aftermath. Doesn't this strike you as somewhat negligent?

On the other hand, there is one major media reporter who sees the value of embedding. No, I'm not talking about Yon or Totten. They haven't been enlisted by a major newspaper to my knowlege. It's Sudarsan Raghaven of the Washington Post who is embedded with the Madhi Army. Pat Dollard considers this traitorous, and considers his reporting to be JAM propaganda. I don't consider it traitorous on it's face, but Nibras Kazimi also has had a problem with his objectivity re: JAM's battle with the government.

Here's the deal on embedding with JAM or the insurgents or the jihadis:
A reporter who wants to embed with US forces can print whatever he likes without retribution (death or abduction) or losing his credentials. It is absurd to presume the same of any reporter embedding with the aforementioned three, so the objectivity of a reporter embedded with them should be questioned obviously, even doubted. Unless a reporter embedded with JAM, the insurgents, or jihadis has shown consistent ability to undercut his hosts (I'll believe it when I see it), he should be presumed to be nothing but their propaganda arm. That includes especially Michael Ware (website

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