For some reporters, a few facts are too many
As a reporter and a combat veteran, I have mixed feelings on thenational news media’s role in the war on Iraq, particularly the”embedded” reporters and 24-hour coverage.
I do believe that the American people have a right to know whatis happening in the war. Citizens should know both the positive andnegative events of the war and how other nations are reacting. I donot believe, however, that it is the reporter’s job, or even duty,to tell the people everything.
As reporters our jobs are to tell the facts, as truthfully as wecan — not to editorialize or to speculate. That is, and should be,the job of professional analysts — and here’s the key — with allof the information at their disposal.
A general who retired several years ago is not a professionalanalyst, nor does he have access to information not available tothe rest of the news media. His opinions and analyses mean verylittle, yet every national media organization covering the warseems to have one. Granted, a general’s experience does provide himwith some limited insight into the mechanics of army deployment andoverall strategy. Rarely, though, do the analysts limit themselvesto such topics and, even more rarely, do they admit that theiropinions are based on very basic information.
Despite the 24-hour coverage and field work of nationalreporters, they do not know everything that’s happening — and theyshouldn’t. Without access to all the information, they should keeptheir mouths shut instead of spouting their opinions on whatdifferent things mean or could mean, how a troop dispersement couldaffect the war plan, the success or failure of coalition warstrategy, and a host of other topics they seem compelled todiscuss.
Sometimes a little knowledge is more damaging, and certainlymore misleading, than none at all.
This also applies to the latest government strategy toaccommodate the media — the “embedded” reporter. Although embeddedreporters can accurately describe combat actions the unit wasinvolved in, they cannot pretend to know how that action fits intothe overall picture. Their knowledge of events is even more limitedthan people here watching the 24-hour coverage. If something doesnot directly involve that unit, you can believe they don’t knowabout it. It’s called operational security.
In wartime, no member of the military, either native orembedded, is told more than what they need to know to completetheir current mission. This protects all the other units involved.If captured, you can’t tell what you don’t know. Perhaps the bestadage for this principle was popular during World War II, “Looselips sink ships.”
Already, Geraldo Rivera was booted from his embedded positionfor a broadcast in which he drew troop positions in the sand. Anyreporter should know better than to reveal important information tothe enemy, and I’m sure the embedded reporters were briefed on whatthey could and could not say before they were allowed to join themilitary units. Ignorance is no excuse. I just hope Rivera didn’tkill anyone.
Of course, a person would think the ‘talking heads’ would knowbetter than to aid and comfort the enemy also, but Peter Arnettdissuaded us of that during his comments to Iraqi-TV.
Some in the national news media need to stop trying to use thewar to advance their own careers and just do their jobs.
Editor’s Note: Scott Tynes was a sergeant in the MarineCorps. He spent nine months in the Persian Gulf during OperationsDesert Shield/Storm in 1991 and is a combat veteran of the groundwar.