In the last Gulf war, liberals complained about a lack of media access to the front lines. In this Gulf war, they are complaining about too much access to it.
The "embedded" reporters are "patsies," says Neal Gabler of Salon. "The White House certainly knew that reporters would bond with their units and identify with them."
This is obviously a troubling development. We wouldn't want American journalists bonding with the American military who protect them. Back in their cubicles with Gabler, these reporters could return to the leisurely anti-military, anti-American coverage of Vietnam yore.
Liberals usually approve of reporters getting close to their subjects. But not in this case, because the subject is the American military, and liberals equate good journalistic coverage of it with knee-jerk criticism.
That embedded journalists are reporting American military success makes them "P.R. flacks," according to Gabler. Would it make Gabler happier if they reported falsehoods about Iraqi military success? What he calls "cheerleading," others might call telling the truth.
Gabler longs for the journalistic days of Vietnam. The "current generation of reporters, unlike the skeptical Vietnam generation," he says, doesn't "challenge the conventional wisdom." They are "reliably docile."
If they only returned to their cubicles, they could provide less "information" about the American military and more "context" and "texture" for the war, say liberals. Liberals are back in the odd position of complaining about too much information. We need the "larger picture," says Gabler, by which he means his picture.
Gabler speaks of the "rigid control of images" by the administration. But all that means is that a small group of liberal journalists aren't controlling them anymore.
Liberals seek a "rigid control of images" by others liberals. It bothers them that Americans are receiving new sources of information without it having been filtered by liberals first.
Some liberal media columnists are even trying to tutor readers in "understanding" information. "Readers who want to work toward understanding by assembling their own collage of journalism from the war can read all the better British newspapers on the Web. The Guardian, for example, is available at www.guardian.co.uk.," says Los Angeles Times media columnist Tim Rutten. San Francisco Chronicle media columnist Jon Carroll also wants us to know that The Guardian is "available online." Thanks guys! Now we can finally understand the war.
What we shouldn't do, according to them, is watch the patriotic pornography of Fox News, unless you like that "sort of thing," to use Rutten's phrase. "In the U.S., Fox News simply has wrapped itself in the flag and makes no effort to distinguish between its journalism and the U.S. war effort," says Rutten. "Fox executives can be pleased that their approach has allowed the network to hold the lead in cable news ratings; the rest of us can be relieved that viewers who want that sort of thing will be too busy having their prejudices confirmed to bother the rest of us."
What vile creatures those Fox viewers are. How strange and appalling that they would tune in to an American network that is pro-American.
Rutten's paper recently reported the horror that "hundreds of reporters placed with combat units continue to generate largely sympathetic stories…" That won't do. In classic Times form, the paper advanced its criticism of embedded reporters through the phrase "some critics" and questions such as "With Media in Tow, Does Objectivity Go AWOL?"
The crisis of journalists being too close to the facts has the L.A. Times deeply concerned. "Some critics" -- read: the editors of the Times -- "say these policies raise questions about the balance and sensitivity of wartime media coverage: How independent are reports from journalists whose very safety depends on the soldiers they are covering? And what stories are missing from American television screens -- such as the reaction of other countries to the conflict and antiwar perspectives -- as military analysts describe the latest action?"
The Times found an expert, not on the front lines, to navigate it through the crisis: "Even before it began, the placement of reporters with troops was 'an experiment of unprecedented size and scope,' said Cinny Kennard, a former CBS correspondent who teaches journalism at USC. "I just don't know if it's a good arrangement." Kennard is "concerned about the question of independence, suggesting that 'a bond develops when you're in a situation like that. You're talking about people who form relationships with people who keep you alive. It's an extraordinary Catch-22.'"
Get journalists away from the story! They might report American military success and find weapons of mass destruction. Above all, they might identify with their country. We don't need "patsies" like that to muddy the "context" that the Gablers and Ruttens alone can provide.
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