Press and Military

The American press needs to end its lovey-dovey relationship with the Pentagon. The Pentagon has provided ample evidence that it can propagandize the American people without the help of a lap-dog press.

It is not the job of the press to support the troops. That is the duty of the American people, their loved ones and their folks back home. Thank God that support is present today, because, being a Vietnam-era veteran, I can well remember when it was absent.

No, the job of the press is to provide the American people with accurate information about the military and its activities. In doing that, no reporter should ever reveal anything that would endanger an American military person’s life or the mission. That said, that’s the end of it. It is not a journalist’s job to be a cheerleader, a public-relations person or a civic booster.

The military and the press have two separate functions. The job of the military is to kill people and destroy assets. The job of the press is to report on the process. If the brass want to call killing civilians “collateral damage,” so be it, but journalists should report that civilians have been killed. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once wrote a wonderful article on the danger of the press allowing the government – any government – to choose its language.

One sees entirely too much of that these days. Analyze, if you will, the coverage of the American military in Iraq. We should be reporting on the daily lives of the soldiers, on what their problems are and on what their true thoughts and feelings are. Most of what I read or see coming out of Iraq looks like a rewrite of a Pentagon press release. The Pentagon seems to have quite effectively muzzled not only the press but its own troops.

You can’t tell me that the American GIs – famous for more than 200 years for speaking their minds and griping – are now uttering the robotlike banalities the press is reporting. At least, I hope they’re not.

It is quite clear now that the occupation of Iraq is not going well. It can’t be when a year into it, 87 Americans are killed in half a month and another 570 wounded in the same two-week period. After a year, if we had done it right, Americans ought to be able to mingle freely with the Iraqi population instead of huddling behind fortified compounds and barricades.

Apparently, however, a lot of journalists venture only between their fortified hotel and the fortified compound known as the green zone, which houses the occupation authority. Unfortunately, that is only a tiny, tiny fraction of Iraq. Iraq and the Iraqi people are in the “red zone.” And that’s where the reporters ought to be. Otherwise, there’s no point in their being there.

There is some good reporting coming out of Iraq, but by and large, the news, especially television, is awful, and by that I mean superficial to an extreme degree. Why hasn’t some enterprising journalist interviewed the cleric the Army is so keen to kill? Why is it that only Al-Jazeera journalists are inside Fallujah? Where are the profiles of Iraqi leaders?

If the brass will not allow reporters to talk to the troops without a minder being present, then journalists ought to report that. Sometimes it seems that there is not that much difference between Saddam Hussein and the American occupation as far as freedom of the press is concerned. We seem to be conducting a vendetta against any foreign journalist or organization that doesn’t agree with the official line.

All we know for sure is that the situation in Iraq is worse than both the Pentagon and the press led us to believe.

Author: Charley Reese

Charley Reese is a journalist.