Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Sunday, April 10, 2005

"Insurgents" at War - the Propaganda Front

The Blogosphere is rife with indignation on both right and left about the CBS camera stringer who was wounded and taken into custody by US forces in Iraq. Greyhawk at the Mudville Gazette posts what amount to "first reports" from both the military and CBS News perspectives. Wretchard at The Belmont Club has a interesting post that begins with a comparison of various "on scene" Iraq "photojournalists" with the famous Joe Rosenthal photo of the flag raising on Iwo Jima to the recent photos from Iraq (including those of the "hit" or execution of election workers recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize).

Let me say that I do not think it matters a great deal whether these cameramen had foreknowledge of the events that their cameras captured. What matters is that the "insurgents" have, since losing the conventional war, long been engaged in what is essentially a public relations campaign against the Iraqi people and the citizens of the United States. Once again, Wretchard and Austin Bay have visited this issue before, here and here respectively.

What matters is the the "insurgents" have a perception that the American "center of gravity"* is best manipulated by continued video coverage of their outrages. These have included the various kidnappings, beheadings, and several iterations of IED attacks on American forces. "Look at us," they say, "we can attack Americans!" Coupled with random and useless mortor attacks in the vicinty of the media dense "Green Zone," the enemy is trying to use the media to convince the American people that they are strong, undefeated and undeterred. The media, guided by the "if it bleeds, it leads" mindset, willingly reports such meaningless attacks, breathlessly and without context. The stream of American troops returning from Iraq (and present in Iraq) report that the media is giving a completely misleading picture of what is happening in Iraq. Such reports are routinely ignored by the media. In addition, though the US military long ago abandoned the "body count" mentality, the American media continues it, so long as the count is of American troops.

The media asserts it is just covering the story, but as the continuing series of "good news" postings from the Autralian blogger Arthur Chrenkoff proves that much of the story is being ignored or underreported.

Robin at Random Probabilities has a very good piece on the effect of the media coverage of the Iraq situation:
Video reports of IED and other attacks are being used by the insurgents to influence public opinion. When that is being done in a deceitful way - which is certainly the case if a photographer is actually embedded with and working on behalf of the insurgents - then arguably all claims to protection have been discarded as well. It’s one thing for the military to go out of their way and even risk their lives to protect journalists who are reporting fairly. It’s another thing entirely to ask them to protect those who are actively collaborating in their deaths and in propaganda efforts against them.
Further, the exactly the right questions are posed:
I do think there’s an ethical dilemma in all this. I personally don’t want journalism that is simply a mouthpiece for our military or our government or our policies.

Moreover, if you assume that it is a journalist’s job to stay totally neutral when reporting war and other armed conflicts, then watching insurgents blow up soldiers and civilians is no different than being embedded with Coalition troops.

I don’t buy the “moral equivalence” argument, however. It’s pretty clear to me that all in all the Coalition and the current Iraqi government are by far the better side in this conflict. Not perfect, but it would be much better for Iraqis and for us if they prevail and the insurgency doesn’t.

And I wonder if journalists really want to push the neutrality argument very far. For if the ideal is that journalists have no allegiance to one side or the other right now in Iraq, even after the incredible elections there a few months ago, then perhaps it is also time to reconsider whether it makes sense to accord journalists a privileged status on the battlefield.

See also this follow-up.

My point is that the MSM are either willingly (for political reasons?) or unwittingly (are they that dense?) providing a small contingent of "insurgents" with both credibility and an importance that belies their real condition and misleads the US public as to their strength and the threat they pose. This aids and abets the "insurgents" in their propaganda war.

This incident of the CBS camera man, "embedded" (as it were) with the "insurgents" is not, as Robin implies, all that shocking. That CBS rejects the idea that it is but a mouthpiece for the US military and that is fine, but it needs to make the same rejection of being a tool of the "insurgents." Now.

*"Center of Gravity" is
"defined in the U.S. military as those characteristics, capabilities, or localities from which a military force derives its freedom of action, physical strength, or will to fight."
Since the Vietnam war, forces opposing the US have taken the view that the Center fo Gravity of the US is the "will" of its people and has sought to use the US media to weaken this will. According to Osama bin Laden, the lessons of the Beirut barracks bombing and Somalia are that Americans cannot stand casualties and killing and will withdraw forces rather than take casulaties. The American anti-Bush left and the MSM play into this by continually emphasizing American body counts. Recall their breathless anticiaption as the count in Iraq neared 1000?

Update: CDR Salamander has short and sweet take on another media giant that sums up the military distaste for the MSM:
What a propagandist, lousy, hateful, defeatist, 180 deg lock-off, clueless, no connection to reality advertising campaign. About as credible as the Pulitzers. Pull it while you have a chance to retain some respect. Shame on you.

Update2: As USS Neverdock so well points out here, the problem is not just limited to the US media.

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