Skip to comments.Embedded reporter comes away from front lines torn
Posted on 04/23/2003 10:10:37 AM PDT by LavaDog
BAGHDAD - A funny thing happened on the way home from Iraq this week: I found myself scoffing at the rear-echelon soldiers for how little they knew about war. About the real war, the one I had experienced, with enemy AK-47 rounds buzzing over your head and the smell of burning flesh and metal filling your nose. About enduring four weeks on the front lines, sleeping in open foxholes you'd dug to avoid shrapnel in the night. About looking terrible, smelling worse, and seeing people die.
Where were the headquarters Johnnies then, I smugly asked myself this week as I walked the former headquarters of the Iraqi secret police, now home to the US Marines' First Division. Probably drinking coffee, eating hot meals, sleeping on cots in canvas tents, and moving arrows around on wall maps.
My line of reasoning was patently ridiculous, of course. The men and women who wear the uniforms are professional soldiers; I'm a professional reporter. And not a particularly brave one, at that. Before the war, I wrote about bank presidents and insurance contracts and mutual funds for The Boston Globe's business section.
Look up Stockholm syndrome in the dictionary, though, and you'll get a pretty good idea about what I was going through in those first hours away from combat. I had lived so closely for so long under such extreme circumstances with the Second Battalion, 11th Marines, fighting their way through Iraq, that I began to think and feel like a Marine.
Therein lies the quandary for the hundreds of ''embedded'' reporters and photographers who covered Gulf War II and the editors who paid them to go. Did we sell our souls as journalists for access to the death and destruction at the front lines?
As part of a first-ever war correspondents' partnership between the Department of Defense and media organizations, we reporters signed contracts limiting what we would say and when we would say it. In return, for the duration of the conflict the Pentagon let us eat, sleep, travel - and sometimes die - with the military forces we covered. (More than a dozen journalists died in combat.)
Over time, it was inevitable that we would begin to view at least some things from the grunt's perspective.
When the battalion I'd been living with drove into an ambush April 6 north of Iraq's capital, I did more than just empathize with the soldiers. I helped them in the battle.
Like the other troops behind us in a convoy of Humvees, seven-ton trucks, and armored reconnaissance vehicles that day, I saw muzzle flashes coming from a window as we passed a squat building about 60 yards away. Several bullets skipped off the road in front of us, but nobody else in my vehicle saw where they were coming from.
I yelled to the first sergeant in the gun turret above my head, telling him which building and which window the gunfire came from. He wasn't sure to where I was referring, so I yelled again, leaning out of the window to point out the location to our right. That's all he needed. He fired nearly 100 rounds out of his .50-caliber heavy machine gun into the building as we rumbled by. The muzzle flashes ended.
We later learned that the gunman inside that building was among four members of Saddam Hussein's fedayeen militia who died in that failed ambush. No Marines were hurt.
The ambush provides the most dramatic, although hardly the only, example of how I came to identify with the Marines over time. Other embedded journalists, including my Globe colleague Brian MacQuarrie and Jules Critten den of the Boston Herald, told similar stories of their time on the front lines. Whether I acted out of self-preservation that day or because of an affinity with the soldiers I was covering hardly matters. The question is whether the coverage I provided during the war was tainted as a result.
I'd like to believe it wasn't. I'd like to believe mine was one of many diverse voices The Boston Globe used to tell the story of this war, and that good editors back home kept everything balanced and in perspective. I'd like to believe that, if nothing else, all of the embedded reporters added something worthwhile to the big-picture stories other journalists were writing from newsrooms, the Pentagon, and the armed forces central command in Qatar.
In the end, it will be for someone else to decide. Big thinkers in both the media and the military will at some point begin to analyze whether the embedding program worked, from their various perspectives.
Like the soldiers who fought on the front lines of this war, I just want to go home at this point to spend time with my family and think about something else for a while. We'll have to leave it to those rear-echelon guys to figure out how and when future wars will be fought - and covered.
We ought to invite these guys to the shooting range for a few afternoons.
I can hardly wait to hear from all the big thinkers in the media what I'm supposed to think of the bias of these embedded reporters.
Did a dozen reporters actually die in combat? I don't remember reading that anywhere before. It will be interesting to hear how they are memorialized compared to the military. Gee, I'm so cynical.
The fact that he is willing to ask the question shows that his coverage wasn't tainted.
We mainly heard about the two Americans, Michael Kelly and David Bloom. There were a number of journalists of other nationalities, mainly European or Aussie, who were killed.
"Look up Stockholm syndrome in the dictionary, though, and you'll get a pretty good idea about what I was going through in those first hours away from my liberal editors. I had lived so closely for so long under such extreme circumstances with the liberal journalism school professors and liberal editors, that I had begun to think and feel like a socialist. "
I couldn't tell if you had left of the < /sarcasm > tag there.
I would agree with your statement on it's face value. I think embedding journalists was a master stroke, and will forever change the way the Department of Defense and the press relate to one another.
The important point is that we have nothing to hide. Our soldiers behaved remarkably well, and were revealed by the embedded journalists to be the heroes that they are.
Dosn't this come off a little bit like a Hackworth opening?
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