Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

“Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media”, writes Ralph Peters in The Journal of International Security Affairs.

Since Peters himself is very much a representative of “the partisan media”, I can’t help but wonder how the good colonel himself would fare in such a violent situation. As far as I know, he has never seen a shot fired in anger, unlike the combat correspondents he so despises.

[h/t Josh.]

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I’ll tell you a secret: I’ve stopped subscribing to both Newsweek and Time — and I wasn’t even paying for it from my own pocket.

The reason? I simply no longer found any use for them. The last story I remember eagerly reading was Newsweek’s post-election special, which was fantastic. The other stuff, not so much. Newsweek still occasionally manages to catch my attention; Time, almost never. And in the unlikely event of there being something I truly need, I can always look it up online — for free.

Faced with its do-or-die moment, Newsweek is planning an overhaul, “a major change in its identity, with a new design, a much smaller and, it hopes, more affluent readership”, the New York Times reports. “The venerable newsweekly’s ingrained role of obligatory coverage of the week’s big events will be abandoned once and for all”, NYT quotes executives as saying.

Good news is, it can be done. Look at the reinvigorated Foreign Policy. They recruited the best minds in the business to blog and provide original reporting, and in one fell swoop managed to make the magazine indispensable.

The bad news? They did it online.

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Gaza: Embedding with the Enemy?

Remember the ruckus at SWJ about Nir Rosen’s visit with the Taleban? The one where  opponents of “embedding with the enemy” reminisced misty-eyed about the Greatest War when the press served as a propaganda tool? Now Israeli politicians are using the same argument to justify keeping the media out of Gaza:

‘We must not allow international press to open a public relations office for terrorists,’ Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai said in a statement.

I’m sure Dave and Bing agree.

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Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald, who has been a leading voice in the echo chamber of Google-based criticism of John Brennan’s CIA candidacy, today goes a step further in his self-righteous offensive and — I can’t believe I’m writing this — in true McCarthyist fashion provides a list of reporters he thinks have erred in “defending” Brennan.

Here’s the funny part:

All of this illustrates the unparalleled power which the ‘intelligence community’ exerts over our political debates, how easy it is for them to manipulate intelligence reporters who depend on cooperation with their intelligence sources and who thus identify with them and happily amplify whatever they are fed, and — most of all — how profoundly unrealistic is the expectation that, now that Democrats are ‘in control,’ they’re just going to blithely proceed to impose all sorts of new restrictions on the CIA and the rest of the Surveillance State — let alone launch probing investigations and impose accountability for past crimes — without much of a major fight.

The way I see it, I ought to be on Glenn’s list, yet not only am I not American but I have absolutely no contact with any intelligence service whatsoever. Unless I’m unaware of secret brainrays, no one has tried to manipulate me, but here I am, making a ruckus anyway.

In case you’re interested, my very own “Brennan defense” is here.

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The New York Times today reports that, despite the Bush administration’s best efforts, Hollywood never honoured its post-9/11 pledge to make the world love America, and instead just made loads of money for itself.

Think Progress, always on the prowl for a good headline, quotes NYT and huffs: “AFTER 9/11, ROVE PRESSURED THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY ‘TO PRODUCE PROPAGANDA'”.

Guys. I really like your stuff, and I think you’re doing an all-round commendable job in exposing the administration’s secrets. But — and this is a HUGE ‘but’ — this news is seven years old. The showbiz newspaper Variety covered Rove’s visit at length already in October 2001.

Don’t believe me? For starters, check these out:

“H’wood enlists in war” — October 17, 2001.
“H’w’d war summit” — November 7, 2001.
“War chores for H’w’d” — November 11, 2001.
“Biz mobilizes war panel” — November 26, 2001.
“Nets rally stars ’round flag” — December 3, 2001.
“White House sez H’w’d true blue” — December 6, 2001.

But what about the meagre results of Rove’s entertainment offensive? Surely that must count as a scoop?

Nope. Variety also reported that particular not-totally-unexpected piece of information — essentially the same stuff NYT and TP now tout as news — in July, 2002.

And how do I know all this?

Because I wrote about it myself — two and half years ago.

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Lament for the Magazine

Browsing my RSS reader one night last week I came across a shocking post by Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic Monthly:

My editors at the Atlantic have never put pressure on me to hawk any product or call attention to anything in the print magazine or even to shill for subscriptions.

That’s one of the reasons I thought I’d take it upon myself to ask you, readers of this reported blog on politics, to think about subscribing to the magazine.

What’s shocking about this has nothing to do with ethics. It’s the mere fact that Marc feels compelled to make a plea in the first place — and the fact that it sounds so futile:

I’ll concede the point: you can get read the Atlantic for free on the website. But reading the magazine is an experience. And today, with the nexus of the economy focused on Washington, with an administration facing epochal challenges… it’s an experience that I think more people should share.

Guys, I feel your pain. If, as I fear, this means one of the cornerstones of American magazine journalism is about to go under, I will be sad beyond words. And yes, I have subscribed again, thanks for asking. But I’d also like to point out something that may not be so great to hear: your magazine has seen better days. The web site is great and the bloggers are hugely entertaining, but the print magazine lacks focus. After Langewiesche left and Bowden went over to the dark side, it has no writers I feel drawn to, at least not enough to actually look forward to the next issue. In comparison, look at The New Yorker: some weeks I don’t read it at all, but then there are issues packed with goodies from Packer or Mayer or Wright or Coll or Hersh, or someone I’ve never heard of; and that’s all I need to want the magazine in bed with me.

My suggestion? How about luring the talent back? How about re-establishing the bond with your readers? How about making your case again — what you are, what you represent, and why I should care.

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Almost two months after Muqtada al-Sadr announced the disarming of most of JAM and turning the rest into a “social organisation”, a surprising turn of events duly reported at the time by most news organisations (see here and here) and by this blog, this bit of old news is suddenly, well, news again. Reported by The Wall Street Journal, which has come across a brochure repeating al-Sadr’s announcement, the story has been picked up by Danger Room and The Washington Independent and presented as something of a scoop.

Come on, guys.

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Journalists are up in arms after photographer Zoriah Miller published photos of dead Marines on his web site and was consequently kicked out of his embed. Predictably, the U.S. military is being accused of censorship; the Marines, for their part, say Miller’s photos desecrated the memory of their fallen comrades, added to the grief of their loved ones, and “provided the enemy with an after-action report”.

My advise to the media: calm down.

I’ve been embedded twice in Iraq with U.S. units. There was no concerted effort to curtail my reporting or the work of the photographers I was travelling with. In fact, I was surprised and impressed by the access I was granted.

On my first embed, with the 28th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad in April 2007, I witnessed the deaths of several American soldiers, watched as limbs were amputated, and was present as a constant stream of Iraqi civilian casualties came in. According to the ground rules, I could not interview American wounded without a public affairs officer present; my photographer needed a written permission from the wounded he wanted to photograph, if they could be identified in the photos; and all “suspected insurgents” were off-limits. We had no trouble agreeing to this. I wasn’t there to interview the wounded; I don’t believe in trying to force empty quotes out of traumatised people. And my photographer, following the journalistic code of conduct accepted in Finland, pointed his Canon somewhere else when a person passed away. He didn’t need pictures of bodies to portray the horror that was Baghdad. (The story is here.)

My second embed, with the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment in Mosul in March 2008, was different only in that the access I was given was even wider. I got to see everything I wanted, from foot patrols to route clearance and cordon and search. All I had to do was ask. Once with the line units, I was on my own — the PA officers stayed in Marez. The only restrictions were logistical: they wouldn’t send a patrol through the dangerous streets of West Mosul just to pick me up. I doubt anyone can argue that’s censorship.

Here’s the thing, though:

From the soldiers’ perspective, journalists are a nuisance. They take up valuable space in your Humvee, poke around when you’re trying to rest, and require constant babysitting in combat. They’re generally pushy and inconsiderate. And most of them can’t even explain why they’re there, so you end up feeling they just want to use your sweat and tears to make money.

I don’t believe there is a plot to sanitise our coverage of the war. I believe the Marines and their commanders who’ve expressed outrage are genuinely shocked at what they perceive as our insensitivity and arrogance. And I believe the ordinary Iraqis, whose relatives appear in Miller’s photos dead and mangled, would be equally disgusted, if anyone would care to ask them.

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News about the postponepent of the Iraqi provincial elections has been picked up by the wires, a mere five days after Marc Lynch blogged about it. Lynch himself has another good post detailing the confusion about when exactly the elections might be held.

The reason I keep harping on the mainstream media’s performance is that I work for MSM, and I’m ashamed of our inability to report on things when they actually happen. Provincial elections are crucial for redressing the imbalance of power that resulted from the 2005 elections, which the Sunnis by and large boycotted. This is why any postponement, even for a few months, is poison to national reconciliation, especially with the Sunni Awakening Councils and Sons of Iraq growing increasingly restless in their political limbo, and consequently it should be major news.

But apparently not.

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Despite being the Stupidest Man on Earth, I’m sometimes right, and it hurts every time.

Last week I predicted that as the demand for news from Iraq drops, the hacks now covering that war will emigrate to Afghanistan. Now it turns out that, after pronouncing the Iraq war “won”, the inimitable Michael “We’re Winning” Yon is on his way to Kabul and beyond. I guess we’ll be winning that one, too, in no time.

To be honest, I haven’t read Yon for a while. He’s well connected within the top echelons of MNF-I, some of his dispatches are diligently researched and not badly written, and the INTSUMs he published were priceless to detail freaks like myself. I can even put up with his self-aggrandisement and melodramatic embellishments. But then there’s stuff like this:

Over the past 15 months, we have proved that we can win this war. We stand now at the moment of truth. Victory – and a democracy in the Arab world – is within our grasp. But it could yet slip away if our leaders remain transfixed by the war we almost lost, rather than focusing on the war we are winning today.

I have no other way of saying this: You haven’t won shit. You’ve just cleaned up after yourselves. Yes, your military has proved flexible and imaginative beyond all expectations. But you don’t deserve praise for that any more than my five-year-old does for putting his Legos back in the box after a day’s play.

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