The media war

The media war
: Michael Wolff, New York Magazine’s media man, files his column from Qatar early. I’ve been waiting for this: caustic Wolff embedded in the press corps, wolff in the hen house.

But he ends up with a nonstory about a nonstory.

He complains that there’s no news at the news center at Centcom.

As Gomer Pyle, USMC, would say: Surprise, surprise, surprise!

Of course, there’s no news there. For one thing, there’s no war there; it’s many sand dunes away in Iraq. For another, this is where the generals are, not the soldiers. And for another, this is the military, filled with armed control freaks.

Wolff got applause at yesterday’s Centcom briefing when he complained about no news in the briefing (a theme begun the day before by other correspondents). From the briefing transcript:

WOLFF: We’re no longer being briefed by senior-most officers. To the extent that we get information, it’s largely information already released by the Pentagon…. So I guess my question is, why should we stay? What’s the value to us for what we learn at this million-dollar press center? (Applause.)

GEN. BROOKS: I’ve gotten applause already. That’s wonderful. I appreciate that.

First, I would say it’s your choice. We want to provide information that’s truthful from the operational headquarters that is running this war. There are a number of places where information is available, not the least of which would be the embedded media. And they tell a very important story. The Pentagon has a set of information they provide as well. If you’re looking for the entire mosaic, then you should be here.

I think some of you may have been, based on the questions yesterday, looking for very, very precise information about the operations. And we’ll give you that as we can. But we should never forget, the more we tell you, if we’re precise about the frontline trace and where units are operating, exactly what our strength is, you’re not the only one being informed….

From which we learn that the Pentagon now has excellent courses in PR.

But this is nothing new. Don’t we all remember the fabled Five O’Clock Follies of Vietnam; those briefings became the subject of not only complaint but also lampoons.

But it’s not just the military. Any press briefing is, by definition, controlled. It’s not about reporting. It’s about a message being spoonfed. It’s a press release.

Same thing at a White House press briefing. Nobody’s going to get a scoop from Ari in the auditorium; you’re going to get what Ari want to tell you. Even though Ari and various generals are now on live TV, they don’t want to give us an exciting show. They want to give us their message.

If you want to report, get the hell out of the press briefing and get out where the action is. Thank goodness, the Pentagon is now allowing that to happen with the embedded reporters.

If you’re a media reporter, Mr. Wolff, then you should get your butt back to New York and watch what we’re watching because I’m eager to hear your take on it all.

You’ll learn a lot more in front of a TV here than in front of a camera there.

Fog of media war
: And here is the problem with instantaneous reporting: Sometimes it takes awhile for the facts to catch up.

The BBC catalogues the incidents of big stories that turned out to be smaller: columns of tanks that turn into trickles of tanks, uprisings that don’t rise up much.

[Former BBC reporter and now British MP] Martin Bell blames the recent confusion on the “excitability” of editors of rolling television news stations.

They are under pressure to give the television war junkies something fresh to keep them hooked.

Some “report rumour as fact”, Mr Bell says….

The Iraq war is a media war like never before.

Military training courses around the world attach increasing importance to public relations.

Martin Bell says the best way of cutting through the “fog of war” is to return to journalistic basics: be sceptical.

And this applies to those watching the war on their computers and TV screens, as much as the reporters putting it there.

: The BBC admits making daily mistakes in war coverage. No news there. Of course, mistakes will be made.