Some Thoughts On The Media
I will be honest right up front. I both like and loathe the press. I like to be interviewed and I like to be on television. Conceited, I know. I am at the same time distrustful of the media.
In my life I have been interviewed for the news a handful of times. During the course of this mission alone I have been interviewed by two TV news stations before I left; once in a “live via phone” interview during the election in January; once for a couple of seconds for my favorite news program, NPR’s “Morning Edition” in February; and twice by Army Public Affairs who takes footage and then turns it into stories for hometown news media. Most of the stories had a favorable slant to them.
Not all the attention I have received has been positive. Once, I was on the receiving end of erroneous report that I assaulted a 15 year old boy during the course of an arrest at his school (for those of you who don’t know; once upon a time I was in law enforcement). Although the initial story made the front page, the retraction, once the truth was made known, was buried in the back of the paper.
In Iraq we have every medium of the press waiting for the next news story. AP, Reuters, CNN, Al Jazeera and Arab news of every type, BBC, and all the networks are represented. They all have a job to do; sell the news.
However, that isn’t exactly right. I meant to say that they have a job to do; sell cars. Sell hamburgers. Sell cola, and clothes, and beer, and all the things that keep money rolling into the station. They are all blood thirsty hounds trading horror for profit. Don’t believe me? Would you rather turn into a story of American Soldiers building a water tower for local villagers or are you more apt to pay attention to the car bomb that killed X number of military and civilian. The latter makes you stop in your tracks. After all, your friends and loved ones are here and that thought of, “oh please let me here from Rich soon,” goes through your head when you hear about another dead American.
This may be over simplified but the news is a business. The news makes it profit not from the quality of the story but from advertisers, whether they are global entities or local shops. Ratings help the advertisers decide where they are going to spend their money. Ratings are decided by the viewership. The viewers tend to be attracted to sensational stories and attractive talking heads sitting behind desks. (Maybe this is why the All Grandmother Sewing Channel failed). Therefore, the news has a requirement to get you to tune in for the news, but to also get you to stay for the commercials and print add.
I am not trying to take away from venerated reporters and exceptional journalism, but in the wake of recent integrity issues in Newsweek, the New York Times, and CBS, doesn’t this ring a little true?
The press can be positive in their stories and does not always have to use murder, explosions, and brutality to boost ratings. They also know how to tug at your emotions. In February you remember that Brian’s brother David was killed in action in Iraq. A respected military columnist, Joe Galloway, wrote about David in Stars and Stripes. The story got picked up by NBC who attended the funeral (with the permission of the family). Then with the Army’s approval and the family’s approval, Dateline NBC did a story on the two brothers. They followed Brian back to Baghdad for a follow up here at the FOB. The story will air this weekend for Memorial Day.
The press can use stories for political issues. There is a debate in Congress over the roll of women in combat. A recent web based news journal highlighted our four female machine gunners. Such an article flies in the face of the “wisdom” of Washington and can be used as, pardon the pun, ammunition. With cable networks such as CNN and FOX taking up opposite side of the political spectrum, how can we not be jaded in our opinion of honest, unbiased reporting?
I have learned to work with the press because, like I said, I like to see my face on TV. I have seen and heard the words I have said not have the same meaning they did when asked and small comments or opinions taken out of context. When I have to deal with the press I prepare just as they do. I ask the questions before hand. I make them “cut” if I don’t like my answer. Finally, I am wise enough to stay “in my lane” and not talk about strategic level or policy level issues that I have no right to discuss. This last point is especially true for those of us in uniform.
Overall, I think the press has been favorable to the military since the war started. They have done an admirable job differentiating between politics and Soldiers. They highlight individuals and team successes. They give our families access to their loved ones in ways that help them understand our lives here better. They continue to portray those that serve honorably as heroes. For those reasons, I am glad the press is with us.
Our mission is done in a month and the press will be in Syracuse to meet us. I will be the senior ranking officer there. Lucky me; lights, camera, action.