Monday, August 15, 2005

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The Late Great Embed Program

I'm not sure I believe the figure given toward the end of this New York Times article and attributed to Associated Press managing editor Mike Silverman, of three dozen embedded journalists remaining with American forces in Iraq compared to 700 when the war began.

Three dozen, or a little more than one journalist for every 4,000 American troops in Iraq, is, well, not very many. If good things are happening in Iraq, it's a good bet that the small number of journalists there would contribute to their being unreported on by the American media, as Austin Bay suggests . Would bad things be underreported as well? Probably. It's not a question of bias or even the attraction to journalists of what Bay calls "police blotter reporting." It's a question of resources.

I'm not an expert on the embed program, and remember that a lot of embedded reporters early in the war were in theater but not in Iraq. Two years ago, though, the large number of embedded reporters made available much good coverage of the combat zone that is mostly absent now. The Times's article rightly notes that this is only one aspect of the decline in reporting from Iraq. And I don't really know if the present low level is mostly a product of the military having become more reluctant to host embeds (for reasons suggested in a Wall Street Journal article from 2003 -- thanks to Phil Taylor for that) or media organizations being less willing to send them. Comment from knowledgable readers is invited.

Incidentally, one of the papers that still has journalists embedded with units in Iraq is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, whose reporters with the 48th Brigade Combat Team have maintained a blog since the 48th deployed four months ago. The 48th is a National Guard unit attached to the 1st Armored Division and drawing most of its soldiers from Georgia; it is stationed at bases in the Baghdad area. The blog entry for August 12 -- and especially the comments -- provide a glimpse of deployed life, both for the troops and for their families.

posted by Joseph Britt on 08.15.05 at 09:37 PM


I was going to put together a response, but commentor Phoenix Woman over at IsThatLegal has done it better than I could have:

This is all about the mythical "Dolchstoss" or "stab in the back". That's where the people responsible for the grand fuckup blame somebody else for it. It worked for Germany's ruling classes in the post-World-War-I era (their scapegoats of choice being -- surprise! -- lefties, Jews, and other non-Aryans), so of course the neo-cons must give it a whirl.

The religio-racist right can never, ever admit that a) invading Iraq was a bad idea, b) BushCo lied about why they wanted to invade, c) anyone with a brain and who wasn't on the boards of any oil companies (such as most of the Pentagon's general staff -- most of whom drive hybrid cars) knew it was a bad idea, and/or d) the post-invasion situation was gone from bad to worse to horrible. So that's why they have to pretend that the Great Big All-Powerful Left (which is so powerful that it got John Kerry and a Democratic Congress elected in 2004 -- oh, wait, that didn't happen, did it?), and not their own fuck-up-itude, is to blame.

posted by: Cranky Observer on 08.15.05 at 09:37 PM [permalink]

Thank you for sharing that hissy fit with us, C.O. For the record, I don't agree that you could not have done it better.

My assumption, clearly not shared by everyone, is that the question of underreported news from Iraq whether good or bad is a serious one worth putting our more volatile emotions in park to think about for a minute. In Austin Bay's defense -- and I certainly don't subscribe to everything he's said on this subject -- similar criticism about "police blotter reporting" can be made about almost any local television news program in the United States. It's no more than common sense to wonder if the same dynamic that drives local news to cover crime stories more than others drives international coverage toward disaster stories more than others.

posted by: JEB on 08.15.05 at 09:37 PM [permalink]

So, this is a bad thing?

The only person worth reading from Iraq is Michael Yon. I like particularly like the stuff from about a month ago, where he drives 30 miles north of Mosul into Kurdish territory to find...nothing much except regular life going on. U.S. forces go there for R & R (and leave the body armor in the car), people eat at roadside cafes, shop at supermarkets, etc. You never see that kind of stuff in the MSM. It's like it doesn't exist.

posted by: Don Mynack on 08.15.05 at 09:37 PM [permalink]

Yup, the MSM never covers regular life or how peaceful the Kurdish areas are.

This article in the BBC was clearly a figment of my imagination:

That being said, obviously the media is focusing on the more sensational issue. Let me put it this way -- if a state with population equal to Iraq in the US had car bombs, attacks, bandit gangs, kidnappings, then no one would cover the more peaceful areas of the state as well. Obviously reporters will look for more spectacular news, but the unfortunate fact that some don't want to face is that there is a lot of spectacular news from iraq that is bad.

posted by: erg on 08.15.05 at 09:37 PM [permalink]

Of course the MSM would report the good news, which we see every day from Iraq and Afghanistan. The hopeless spin of the MSM is a joke and that's why I regard the blogging of the troops and Yon far more interesting and substantive than jouralists hanging out in the equilavent of the Siagon Continental passing on rumors and fantasies.

posted by: Thomas J. Jackson on 08.15.05 at 09:37 PM [permalink]

this morning NPR reported on a horrible triple bombing in Baghdad, that "broke the recent period of relative calm"

Of course NPR had NOT reported that recent period of relative calm. At least not that i heard, and im a pretty regular listener.

Not cause they didnt have enough reporters there - they obviously KNEW about the period of calm,since they mentioned it when it was BROKEN. They just decided not to mention it on air.

Sometime I think im living in the old USSR, trying to decipher Pravda.

And yes, if there IS a groundswell for withdrawl, and the admin DOES withdraw, over neocon objections, and Iraq goes to hell, there WILL be intense discussions of who was responsible.

Stab in the back was a legend in 1920s Germany. That doesnt prove it always is.

posted by: liberalhawk on 08.15.05 at 09:37 PM [permalink]

Erg? That State would be Texas, where 1300 to 1400 people a year are murdered, let alone the annual number killed. Some 2200 die by being shot, malace or no.

Yet no one portrays it as unlivable. So much for your theory - try again.

posted by: Tommy G on 08.15.05 at 09:37 PM [permalink]

When Texas starts having 2 car bomb attacks a day, 6-10 police officers or army personnel killed every day, regular mortar attacks, regular pitched battles between police and criminal thugs involving artillery and planes, when the road from Austin downtown to its airport is constantly attacked by snipers, when foreign journalists (and Iraqis too) are regularly shot or captured and held for ransom, when the Gvoernment of Texas has to operate in a huge area of barbed wire and fences, and military troops, when members of government are regularly assasinated then maybe we can talk about the relative livability of Texas vs. Iraq.

"Of course NPR had NOT reported that recent period of relative calm."

Well, calm isn't news. Even of Septemember 11th, 10s of millions of Americans went about their business peacefully, and even in NYC, the large majority of people had to put up with nothing more than inconvenience (I was one of them), although of coruse a few were impacted far more tragically. But all the news coverage was about Septememebr 11th ? Was that wrong ? Of course not !!

And returning to Texas for a minute, one armed standoff that led to death in Waco was covered extensively in the media. Well, in Iraq, you have the equivalent in casualties of Iraqis and Americans practically every week.

posted by: Mark M on 08.15.05 at 09:37 PM [permalink]

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posted by: search engine on 08.15.05 at 09:37 PM [permalink]

Mark - If you did a 'man on the street' in this country, and asked the passers-by how many people are murdered in Texas every year, they wouldn't come anywhere near 2200, given that the 1800 KIA number is their main point of reference.

Again, where are the horror-stories about whether or not Texas is going to fall into chaos unless it becomes a heavily-armed police-state?

That's right - they're aren't any. Stop playing make-believe.

posted by: Tommy G on 08.15.05 at 09:37 PM [permalink]

There are 120 - 180K US troops in Iraq. There have been maybe 800KIA in the last year among the troops who served there. By contrast, the population of Texas is 30 M.

So % vise, 2200/30 M is much smaller than 800/(around 200 K) soldiers.

So stop playing games with numbers. The appropriate comparison with texas might be to compare casualties with the total population of Iraq , which is only a few million above Texas. A comparison of a much smaller population is obviously not going to work.

One Branch Davidian showdown in Texas generated hundreds of articles and TV reports. Iraq has the equivalent of that every week.

posted by: Mark M. on 08.15.05 at 09:37 PM [permalink]

Actually, according to the website, there have been around 1000 Americans KIA in the last year.

So to get an equivalent rate in 30M Texans, we would have around 1000/200K * 30 M = 150K.

If there were 150 K violent murders in Texas a year, that would be the equivalent. T

posted by: Jasper B on 08.15.05 at 09:37 PM [permalink]

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