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Embed With the Military

Re: Michael Fumento’s Military Unfairly Blamed for Embed Problem:

Michael Fumento’s piece on embedding is the product of sloppy research and should have been better vetted. As it stands, it contains several errors, the first of which is that I am president of Military Reporters & Editors. I was president of MRE until 5th annual conference last month in Chicago. He’d have known that if he had bothered to check the MRE website,

Mr. Fumento is correct in calling the small number of embeds in Iraq grotesque. But he wrong in saying “the MSM Baghdad press corps,” as he refers to the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Cox and the major broadcast networks, among others, “bizarrely believes it can cover a country of 26 million people” by relying on stringers, e-mail and phones. I know a few of those mainstream media people and none of them has ever suggested such a thing. So just where did he come up with this notion? Did Mr. Fumento interview any of those reporters now working on their own in Baghdad?

If so, he ought to share their comments with us to support his case.

It is my belief that the media must do better than the bombing-of-the-day story if Americans are to have any idea of the dimensions of this war in Iraq. That is why MRE is working with other war correspondents and military officers to develop a better embed process. But I take exception to his suggestion that these Baghdad journalists “may as well be back in the States” is idiotic. It implies that they never get out and that they and their Iraqi employees never take risks. Anyone who has worked as a unilateral damned well knows better.

A careful look at my views on the subject of the media’s problems with embedding, including a read of my blogs on www.mysanantonio.com, will reveal that I have never placed the blame for the lack of embeds in Iraq solely on the military. There are many factors, particularly the belief among some editors I know that the benefits of reporting on Iraq either as embeds or unilaterals is not worth the risk. Cost is another critical factor. If you work on your own in Baghdad, you now will need a security team and, perhaps, an armored vehicle. While Mr. Fumento underestimates the cost of flying to Kuwait and Jordan by using a Washington-to-Amman/Kuwait flight model (many reporters who might go there live far from National and Dulles), he skips right over the most expensive parts of such a tour for non-embeds.

I’m familiar with those costs because I have run up the bills.

The embed process is laborious, and could be much improved, and the Rhino Runner armored bus to the Green Zone — as the Iraqis have long called it — does indeed run only at night. It ran during the day in July 2004, but did not during my tour last summer. For more on how we got from the airport to the Green Zone because of the Rhino’s odd hours, go the San Antonio Express-News‘ Military City blogs. There’s a good story on what photographer Nicole Fruge and I had to do in order to meet the U.S. adviser to Anbar province’s governor.

And as to the CPIC identification badge, it was not accepted on numerous occasions at dining halls at Balad Air Base in August and early September. The armed Ugandan guards who control entry to the dining halls consistently refused to allow us in, referring to a large white binder that included all of the badges that were accepted, and then pointing out that ours was not. They were sticklers for the rules in that regard, but in one case a specialist ordered the guard to let us in. Mr. Fumento might have known that if he had called or e-mailed me.

That’s the real problem here. In sharing his opinions with us, he failed to do his homework.

His many errors are the only reason I am responding to his column at all.

I’ve been to Iraq four times and know something of life as both an embed, first with the 3rd Infantry Division during the invasion, and also as a unilateral working out of several hotels in Baghdad. I also know a little something about journalism and the issues there. The next time Mr. Fumento writes a column about me, he ought to do the bare minimum and read some of my work. He might also call me. That would be a good start in offering an informed opinion.
Sig Christenson
Immediate past president and co-founder,
Military Reporters & Editors
Military writer, San Antonio Express-News

I wish to correct an error in the Fumento story.

Christenson even insists that once an embed receives his press pass, “The problem with going through hell to get that card is it won’t get you into the KBR dining hall on any forward operating base in Iraq.” Wrong again. That press pass gets you into any chow hall in Iraq.

A press ID most certainly will not grant access to ANY chow hall in Iraq — KBR or otherwise. The originators comment was about DFAC’s on the FOB’s, and a press pass may very well gain them that access…but only if they’re allowed on post. In the north, if you don’t have a CAC card, (DoD ID card), then you’re not getting past the front door of the main DFAC — all the contractors scurrying about have to make their own arrangements for food (KBR being the exception of course).

However, a lot of KBR “chow halls” (and the best) aren’t located on the FOB’s and those are the places that the press would love to gain access. The REO’s. For two years I watched press personnel try and scheme their way into the main compound in the IZ only to find they had to be under watch 24/7 and even then — no chow hall or accommodation. Now I’m at another location serviced by KBR and again, Press passes aren’t acceptable forms of ID to the soldiers at the entrances.

Likely because no one wants the press around. War is the business of kills — for both trooper and contractor alike. The media makes it socially unacceptable to like what you’re doing out here.

Anyway, I’m off the soapbox now, but I would like to say that I do very much like the article.
James H.

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