A couple of my favorite moments from the war coverage
Jose G. Perez
jg_perez at bellsouth.net
Wed Mar 26 06:51:33 MST 2003
Have been spending every night glued to CNN (domestic) war coverage because
of my work. Just some thoughts/impressions I wanted to share to decompress
before going to bed.
It's been a real thrill to such fine professionals of objective journalism
explaining things like that the reason the British minesweepers have plastic
hulls is that they resist mine explosions better, and that Saddam's 130,000
troops in the North of the country are almost three whole divisions.
My favorite moment, I think, was by CNN reporter Walter Rodgers,
"embedded" --as the term of art has it-- in the 7th Cavalry, Custer's old
regiment. It was he, or rather his cameraman, who brought us the live
videophone pictures of the specific unit he is in --the Apache troop of the
third squadron-- dashing across the (allegedly) Iraqi desert the second day,
or perhaps the third, of the ground war, in what Aaron Brown and General.
Wesley Clark assured us was a "historic" moment. A couple of nights ago they
had just crossed from the desert into the valley of the Euphrates, with lush
green fields and palm trees, and had just come across the first incident of
Iraqi harassment. The scenery reminded him, Rodgers said, of Southeast Asia.
This morning, after 7 hours of unbroken CNN, I got a respite, and a chance
to check out the other coverage. Went to the BBC news channel for North
America (I don't know if the Beeb has adopted the CNN innovation of
reporting things one way on its domestic network, and in an entirely
different way to the rest of the world, so just in case I note it was the
BBC TV news service available in the US).
Over pictures of British soldiers handing out candy to children in Umm Qasr,
and distributing bottled water and MRE's to their parents, the announcer
intoned, "The battle is on for the hearts and minds." Deja vu all over
again. Umm Qasr has been "secured," BTW, by which they mean, it was later
explained, that only a few "pockets" of resistance remain, except that the
Brits don't know where the pockets went to just now.
The thing I liked about the Beeb's coverage was their (relative) honesty.
For example, their "crawl" about the Basra uprising said that British
officers "claim" that there is "some sort of uprising" in Basra. Now Al
Jazeera has reporters in Basra, and they went and looked and couldn't find
any uprising. By saying "claim" the Beeb made clear it really didn't
know --and frankly was a little skeptical-- about the substance of the
matter. In this, as in so many other things imperial, the Americans could
pick up a few pointers by studying the experiences of their cousins across
the Atlantic. Because CNN picked up on the uprising story and took it
through the hoop. One bit that caught my attention was that Saddam's
dastardly fedayeen were shooting mortars down into the crowd from the Basra
Baath party headquarters. Not that I'm an expert in mortars, but the only
ones I ever saw did not shoot "down" because the round would have fallen out
of the tube and even if it hadn't, the recoil would have killed the person
holding it. Not that I blame the British commander for making up such a
story, if that is the source of it. If I had just declared a city of 1-1/2
million people a "legitimate military target" and was about to start
shelling it, I'd cook up some sort of pretext, too. As fate would have it,
his tanks and mortars couldn't hit the party HQ. Eventually one of those
"surgical" bunker-buster 2000-lb bombs took it out. Which made me wonder
where the artillery shells and mortar rounds the brits did fire went.
So I was especially grateful for the insight of one of the British embedded
reporters who summed up the crux of the problem facing the Anglo-American
crusaders rather neatly: "There is a serious problem in convincing Iraqis in
areas already taken that this is a liberation." He went on to explain how it
was necessary to explain that Saddam had been "shooting and gassing his own
people" and so on. Which, after the British cannonade of Basra, you could
see is a point that a lot of Iraqis would be overlooking just now.
BTW, only hours earlier, Tony Blair had *promised* the Iraqi masses that,
unlike in 1991, if they rose up against Saddam this time the Brits and
Americans would move in to support them. Asked this morning if he was moving
into Basra to support the uprising, the local British commander said, and I
I went to the Beeb because I was thirsting for some of that live action war
reality TV I'd become accustomed to in the previous 2 to 3 days, and I knew
the British reporters were still being allowed to file.
You may have noticed that there is damn little "embedded" reporting coming
from the American reporters with U.S. troops engaged in actual operations
the last couple of days. We don't know why, because the ground rules
accepted by the news organizations prevent them from telling their audience
when the brass forbids embedded reporters from reporting. That's for
"Operational Security." This way by suddenly yanking Walter Rodgers off the
air, the Iraqis won't know the 7th cavalry is up to something.
But if things were going as swimmingly for the 7th Cavalry and the 3rd
infantry division and the First Marine Expeditionary Force as we're told,
with 150 or 200 or 500 Indians, I mean Iraqis, rubbed out in a single
engagement, I doubt very much the American officers would resist the
temptation of being interviewed live on CNN or Fox, which somehow every last
little captain at the head of a company or troop and everyone above them in
the field has succeeded in doing for a couple of days now.
So it's all been "live shots" as they say in the TV biz from the
journalistic parasites leeching on REMF's. Pretty thin stuff.
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