Yon vs. Military Flacks


In a counterinsurgency, the media battlespace is critical. When it comes to mustering public opinion, rallying support, and forcing opponents to shift tactics and timetables to better suit the home team, our terrorist enemies are destroying us. Al Qaeda's media arm is called al Sahab: the cloud. It feels more like a hurricane. While our enemies have "journalists" crawling all over battlefields to chronicle their successes and our failures, we have an "embed" media system that is so ineptly managed that earlier this fall there were only 9 reporters embedded with 150,000 American troops in Iraq. There were about 770 during the initial invasion.Many blame the media for the estrangement, but part of the blame rests squarely on the chip-laden shoulders of key military officers and on the often clueless Combined Press Information Center in Baghdad, which doesn't manage the media so much as manhandle them.
David_Contractor.jpgSo writes super-blogger Michael Yon in an essay in The Weekly Standard. Yon, a former soldier-turned- journalist who spent nine months embedded with infantry units in Iraq and Afghanistan last year, has fearlessly reported the facts from some of the worst places in the world, including Baqubah in north-central Iraq, where in January 2005 I was on the receiving end of a spectacular suicide bombing. Now Yon writes about a foe nearly as harmful to the U.S. war effort: Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, departing head of the Baghdad Press Information Center. Continues Yon:
Johnson has repeatedly gone on record decrying the lack of press coverage in Iraq, all while alienating the last vestiges of any press willing to spend month after month in combat with American soldiers. Meanwhile, "the most quoted man in Iraq" has become a major media source in his own right. Too bad there is no one else to tell the story of our troops. Too bad the soldiers' families have little idea what they are up to from day to day.
I've had my own run-ins with Johnson. He was instrumental in the abrupt and violent end to my February 2006 embed with the 4th Infantry Division in Balad, which effectively spelled the end of my career as a U.S. military embed. I have since embedded successfully with British forces in Iraq -- a move on my part that, according to British press officers, elicited protests from Johnson's office.Johnson's out of Iraq now, reportedly on his way to the Pentagon where he will surely make trouble for the Washington defense press, including yours truly, as I'm about to go on staff at Defense Technology International. In Johnson's place is a Colonel Christopher Garver, who you can contact directly here. Let's hope Garver understands the value of the press in fourth-generation warfare.But even if he does, he'll be in a minority, as the Army has recently taken steps to crack down on our most unfiltered source of information from the front: soldier bloggers. As milblogs get shut down, embeds become even more important. Tragically, recent reports have pinned the number of embeds in Iraq at around ten. That's too few. There would be eleven if Garver would let Yon back in, twelve if he'd let me back too, and many more if he demonstrated a willingness to work with alternative media. There is no shortage of independent journalists eager to risk their lives to report on U.S. troops; there is only a lack of will on the part of the military to grant us access.-- David AxeUPDATE 10/24/06 9:28 AM: Jules Crittenden predicts "the death of milblogging."
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