Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

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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So we have another dispatch from Korengal, this time by the Wall Street Journal’s Yochi Dreazen.

The Khe Sanh-style fighting in this godforsaken valley seems to draw American journalists like honey. First Sebastian Junger went there and wrote an unfocused and meandering reportage that lacked both passion and detail and was dwarfed by Tim Hetherington’s powerful photos. Then Elizabeth Rubin of the New York Times ventured in, spent weeks with the tired men of Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and came back with what is probably the best piece of journalism to come out of Afghanistan since 9/11.

So, with the ultimate Korengal story already written, why do it again?

Because that’s what we do. We read each other’s stuff, follow each other’s breadcrumbs and rarely delve deep into our subjects even when they occupy us for years. When Time ran a bleak story on Mosul’s COP Rabiya last February, every embed wanted to be there, regardless of what was happening across the river in eastern Mosul. For a while, Baquba was shit hot, then Arab Jabour. In Afghanistan, Garmser is suddenly the place to be, even though the Brits have been slugging it out with the Taleban over there for years. (The Limeys, too, got to enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame, but not before Prince Harry’s heroic two-month deployment.)

I’ll repeat myself: we desperately need a Nir Rosen or a Patrick Cockburn to poke his nose into these places. This is now more important than ever, as attention shifts from Iraq, which has become way too complicated for general media consumption, to Afghanistan, where, as Abu Muqawama’s Kip pointed out, bad shit has been happening at least since 2005, but no one cared.

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I have serious issues with Christopher Hitchens’s waterboarding.

More precisely, Hitchens can have himself waterboarded to hell for all I care, but the Vanity Fair story is crappy journalism.

Here’s why:

It makes no sense. Hitchens goes to great lengths to explain the faulty logic behind waterboarding terror suspects, but nowhere does he explain why he himself did it.

I’m serious. Nowhere.

Did he do it to find out what it feels like? If so, my question is this: what sort of a person needs to have himself tortured to empathise with the real victims?

Did he do it to prove that waterboarding is indeed torture, regardless of what Bush says? If so, I’ve got to ask: does any sane person really need Hitchens’s trickery to believe it’s inhuman to pour water into someone’s nose until he’s about to drown?

Did he do it to show remorse, as is his habit, for supporting neocon stupidity? If so, let’s commend him for the gesture and hope that next time he’ll suffer his pangs of contrition in private.

Or did he do it just to prove to himself he can withstand at least as much pain as the al-Qaeda detainees he loathes?

Inane as it sounds, I’m afraid this is the most plausible explanation for Hitchens’s egotistical nonsense.

How else do you explain stuff like this:

I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted.

This is because I had read that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, invariably referred to as the ‘mastermind’ of the atrocities of September 11, 2001, had impressed his interrogators by holding out for upwards of two minutes before cracking. (By the way, this story is not confirmed. My North Carolina friends jeered at it. ‘Hell,’ said one, ‘from what I heard they only washed his damn face before he babbled.’) But, hell, I thought in my turn, no Hitchens is going to do worse than that. Well, O.K., I admit I didn’t outdo him.


The interrogators would hardly have had time to ask me any questions, and I knew that I would quite readily have agreed to supply any answer. I still feel ashamed when I think about it.

Journalistic experiments don’t have to be cheap stunts. But there is always a fair amount of self-indulgence in these first-person escapades. I should know. I’ve lived in an empty bear cage in the Helsinki zoo for a week to find out what it feels like to be gaped at and spat on. Once I sat for a week in a broom closet four storeys underground with the Internet as my only companion to prove it’ll drive you nuts. In the end, the only thing I proved was that even a young man’s endurance has its limits. It’s ego tripping. But at least you can be honest about it.

Hitchens, however, never comes clean. Evidently the editors of Vanity Fair believe he is such a strong brand that no explanations are needed, as if his name alone could validate any bullshit. Witness the blurb: “Watch Christopher Hitchens Get Waterboarded”. Indeed, waterboarding is not the story here, nor the abuse of human rights by the world’s greatest democracy — it’s Me, Myself and Christopher.

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I have added an ‘Articles’ section, see above.

Approach at your own risk. They’re mood pieces.

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Blood and Treasure is sending traffic my way. Cheers!

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