Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sleeping With The Enemy, Our Soldiers

I remember reading some time back that the reason that "news" organizations were no longer embedding reporters with the military was that it made the reporting too sympathethic to "the other side," meaning that the reporters who were embedded actually wanted the US to win.

How awful!

Well, a Wall Street Journal story seems to confirm this. After spending time embedded with US soldiers, foreign journalists are coming away with a great admiration for our troops as they learn that they are not the bloodthirsty monsters protrayed in our own press

It doesn't matter how skeptical of the war a journalist might be, according to an Army public affairs officer who spoke with me about it on condition of anonymity. "So often, they come out of that experience and--even if their opinion of the war hasn't changed--they're completely won over by the troops."

"I was one of those," admitted Mr. Beriain, speaking broken English and blinking away tears. "No matter what you think of the war, or what has happened here, you cannot be around the soldiers and not be completely affected. They are amazing people, and they represent themselves and the Army better than anyone could ever imagine." A retired Army officer concurred, telling me that "young troops are some of the best goodwill ambassadors we've ever produced. It would never occur to one to not tell you what he's really thinking, and they are so earnest" that it is almost impossible not to be won over by them if given enough time.

The most spectacular recent case of a journalist with an antiwar mindset being completely overwhelmed into a change of heart by American soldiers, according to the public affairs officer, was a Greek public television reporter who had been embedded with an infantry unit that became entrenched in a 45-minute firefight with insurgents. Yanked out of the line of fire by a soldier who put the journalist's life above his own, he waited under cover and in fear of his life for the almost hourlong duration of the battle, with the best view possible of American soldiers in action against an armed and murderous enemy. He credits his having lived to tell the tale directly to those young troops.
"He had tears in his eyes as he talked about it," said the public affairs officer. "He just kept saying, 'They saved my life, they saved my life. . . . These are great men; they are heroes.' Even after telling it several times, he couldn't get through the story without choking up--and this was a man who had arrived here with all of the disdain for the Iraq mission and for the American soldiers who he [like seemingly most Europeans] had seen as the bad guys in this fight."

While embedding may be decried by some for causing journalists, who claim the utopian titles of "objective" and "neutral" for their reportage, to lose their cold detachment and actually begin to see the soldiers they live alongside as humans, it is that very quality that makes the practice of embedding reporters with military units so beneficial to both parties. Rather than observing events from a safely detached distance--and thus being able to remove the human element from the equation--embedded reporters are forced to face up to the humanity of their subjects, and to share common experiences--often of the life-and-death variety--with those they are covering.

I find it interesting that our own media believes that they have to maintain a level of ignorance and distance from events to report upon them.

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