Warning

 

Close

Confirm Action

Are you sure you wish to do this?

Confirm Cancel
Member Login
Posted: 12/27/2005 2:40:49 PM EDT
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Who is a journalist?

A Washington Post story about information warfare in Iraq mentions Bill Roggio. The WP article said:


Retired soldier Bill Roggio was a computer technician living in New Jersey less than two months ago when a Marine officer half a world away made him an offer he couldn't refuse. Frustrated by the coverage they were receiving from the news media, the Marines invited Roggio, 35, who writes a popular Web log about the military called The Fourth Rail ... to come cover the war from the front lines. ... He raised more than $30,000 from his online readers to pay for airfare, technical equipment and body armor ... Scrutiny of what the Pentagon calls information operations heightened late last month, when news reports revealed that the U.S. military was paying Iraqi journalists and news organizations to publish favorable stories written by soldiers, sometimes without disclosing the military's role in producing them. ... Roggio could not be issued media credentials unless he was affiliated with an organization, the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning research organization in Washington, offered him an affiliation, according to an entry on Roggio's blog"


The article occasioned a lot of commentary in the blogosphere. Blogger Scout Prime says "Blogging isn't journalism. I am not a journalist. Though I have many problems with journalism today in America I certainly do not advocate substituting the function of the press with blogging and certainly not propaganda blogging brought to you by the military and the American Enterprise Institute." Matt at Blackfive says: hold on, there were journalists before there were newspapers, except that formerly recollections took longer to publish. "In the past, the experiences of war have produced poetry and novels and memoirs. ... In real time, on the Internet, officers and enlisted men and women are chronicling the war on weblogs". Others are not convinced. A poster at Livejournal says bloggers are government propagandists and should be identified as such. "One needs to ask who supplied the $30 k for Mr. Roggio's trip. Such a payment could be hidden monetary support for the Bush administration as Roggio's are manly but syrupy sweet paeans to the wonderful war in Iraq effort." Michael Yon, himself the subject of the Washington Post story, faces the issue of propaganda squarely and asks readers to compare a photoessay on the Iraqi elections prepared by an unattributed source which he had posted on his site and a photoessay prepared by MSNBC and asks, what the difference is between the two in terms of accuracy of content and presentation? He argues that both relate true events and are crafted for effect. If the flag of legitimacy does not fly from within the internal construction of the photoessays themselves, where is it grounded?

Commentary

I think Ranting Profs comes close to the essential issue when observing:

"Finally, there's a recognition that the enemy is engaged in information operations, that there needs to be some critical reflection regarding what they do and how they do it, that there's a strategy underlying their behavior. On the other hand, that's treated with equivalence to information ops American forces engage in. The difference is American forces are trying to influence the way articles are placed by, you know, influencing the way articles are placed, while the enemy are trying to influence the way articles are placed by staging events -- meaning by killing people. It ain't quite the same thing."


But the weakness of this argument is that it reduces everyone to a propagandist working for one side or the other. To avoid unfairness in dishonesty, dishonesty must become general. That renders the question of legitimacy moot, but I believe it is not. Legitimacy is rooted within an a journalistic piece itself; it is not an added on at an editorial desk in a famous building. Consider Patrick Cockburn's report on the Iraqi elections at the Independent:


Iraq is disintegrating. The first results from the parliamentary election last week show the country is dividing between Shia, Sunni and Kurdish regions. ... The election marks the final shipwreck of American and British hopes of establishing a pro-Western secular democracy in a united Iraq.


It is totally irrelevant to question Mr. Cockburn's motives, intelligence or literary style. The only source of legitimacy that matters is whether Mr. Cockburn's journal of events is accurate. If Mr. Cockburn's description of Iraq as disintegrating proves true then his tidings, however unwelcome, will not be propaganda any more than reporting the sinking of the Titanic was. But by the same standard, most of Bill Roggio's work at the Fourth Rail and Threats Watch will pass muster as legitimate journalism in terms of accuracy, his lack of regular press credentials notwithstanding. Mr. Roggio has written many accounts of operations in Iraq which have not been contradicted by subsequent events. The clear mark of a propagandist is one who consistently misrepresents events, allowing for occasional errors which every human being must make. Track record matters. The reason that John Burns of the New York Times may be better regarded than Robert Fisk is because Burns has consistently proved the better observer of events. Moreover, the longer the retrospective, the better Burns looks.

The Ranting Professor correctly says that both the US and enemy sides are consciously engaged in an information war. What is overlooked, I think, is that in the battle for credibility accuracy matters. If their claims to superior accuracy were undoubted, the mainstream media can easily afford to ignore the amateurish efforts of a few soldiers and bloggers to get 'the other side of the picture' out. In terms of professional writing skill, press credentials and technical support, Mr. Roggio with his scrounged up $30,000 can hardly hope to compete with professional journalists backed by Fortune 500 companies. That he and others like him are considered a threat says more about the mainstream media than anything else.

As a child, I listened to my grandfather recall how, during the War, Japanese-controlled radio nightly reported sinking half a dozen American battleships, a score of destroyers and countless aircraft carriers -- day after day. MacArthur, they said, would never return. Then one morning in late 1944 as gramps was walking along Manila Bay he heard the strange drone of approaching aircraft. As it happened, my father (he had not yet met my mother) was walking along the outer perimeter of Nielsen Field some miles away at that same moment and saw two Zeros begin to roll down the runway in a desperate scramble to get airborne. They got a few hundred feet into the air when Hellcats came right down onto the deck and shot them both down before his astonished eyes. Bam, and they were gone. Grandpa climbed the highest building he could find and watched, amazed, as carrier aircraft sank every Japanese vessel in the harbor, until but one resisted, settled on the shallow bottom. On the fantail of that single vessel, one dogged Japanese sailor kept up a steady fire with his Hotchkiss until a naval fighter came right to the water and traded tracers with the brave Japanese sailor until he was no more. What died that day wasn't simply the shipping in the harbor; nor even the Zeros at Nielsen Field, but the credibility of every Japanese-controlled radio station. What propaganda fears above all is truth.

Update
Bill Roggio questions some of the Washington Post's facts and responds to his critics. For example Mr. Roggio says that contrary to the Post's article, he was not accredited by the American Enterprise Institute. Nor was there anything special about the process through which he was embedded with units in Iraq, pointing out that it's a well-worn route which one of his critics was actually invited to join. He also provides details on the $30,000 he raised to fund his trip and how small the donations individually were.

Read the whole thing.


posted by wretchard at 3:33 AM | 71 comments

Monday, December 26, 2005
Link Posted: 12/27/2005 2:44:55 PM EDT
It's the Washington Post.

Someone that is punking thier opinions (the only right ones, BTW)
is gaining attention.

First tactic: Ignore.
Second tactic: Discredit.
Link Posted: 12/27/2005 2:47:42 PM EDT
The traditional media will do anything to maintain their grip on power. However, times are a changin'. Conservative media has eroded their hold on America. Plus the internet is arising as a powerhouse of news.

The liberal media is loosing its grip and they know it.
Link Posted: 12/27/2005 2:58:47 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/27/2005 3:00:15 PM EDT by LVMIKE]
How far the media has come. From the beast it dispised, to an un-witting ally. Originally the media was there to tell you what the government wasn't and any idea of control of information was extinguished by their press. Now their presses stand and preach in favor of their corporation controlling the information that reaches the public via the internet.

You wonder what Americans would back giving control of the internet to the UN? American news papers. Their control is waning and their financial security is not to be impeded -- American sovranty be damned. Even if they are shunned by the American market (CNN), their belief in the world market won't scare them from this course. There is money elsewhere in the world to pocket and centralist governments will gladly accept a big name puppet media outlet.

Big media hasn't been by the people, for the people, in a long time.
Link Posted: 12/27/2005 3:52:26 PM EDT
Disinformation Operations
By Bill Roggio
Monday’s Washington Post featured an article written by Jonathan Finer and Doug Struck titled Bloggers, Money Now Weapons in Information War - U.S. Recruits Advocates to the Front, Pays Iraqi TV Stations for Coverage, of which my embed in Iraq was the subject of scrutiny as a military information operation.

There are three problems with this article which require a response: the use iof incorrect facts which could have been easily checked; the portrayal of my embed as an information operation; and equating U.S. military information operations with al-Qaeda propaganda efforts.

The “Facts”

There are several factual errors in this story, all of which could have been easily verified by direct questions to me, by reviewing my “About” pages at either ThreatsWatch.org or The Fourth Rail, or by asking some questions within their own organization.

I conducted an email interview with Mr. Finer from Iraq. This interview consisted of a single email exchange, and never once were the facts below addressed in any follow up questions.

I am not a “retired soldier”, as that would have required me to serve in the military for twenty plus years. I spent four years on active duty and two years in the National Guard. The article also indicates that I am currently in Iraq and embedded with the Marines in Western Anbar. I am not. I returned home on December 20th.

I was not credentialed by the American Enterprise Institute. This would be impossible as the needed press credentials must be provided by a media organization. A friend suggested I approach the American Enterprise Magazine, which is a periodical published by the American Enterprise Institute. We were unable to work out an agreement, so I searched for an alternative.

Another friend suggested I contact The Weekly Standard. Richard Starr was happy to help and provided the necessary credentials to embed. Also, Rod Breakenridge of the Canadian talk radio show The World Tonight kindly provided documentation for credentials as well. The two letters allowed me to successfully embed, and there were no questions about my credentials in Baghdad or elsewhere.

The Weekly Standard or Mr. Breakenridge did not establish any preconditions for providing the credentials, nor did they fund my trip in any way. I wrote a single article for The Weekly Standard about Election Day in Barwana, and gave two phone interviews from Iraq to The World Tonight.

Finally, The Washington Post astonishingly misrepresents the entire embed process. Captain Jeffery Pool, the Public Affairs Officer for the 2nd Marine Division is quoted as saying “A thorough review of his work was taken into account before authorizing the embed.” Perhaps my work was reviewed before extending the invite to embed, of this I have no knowledge. However, the military has absolutely no authority to “authorize the embed” that I am aware of.

The embed process requires you to be credentialed by a legitimate media source; any citizen who obtains the proper press credentials can embed as a journalist. Once I obtained the credentials, I chose where and when I embedded, and the Public Affairs Officers merely provided assistance with facilitating the embed and movement to the different units.

The only approval required was for embeds that were of a potentially classified nature, such as a Special Forces embed, or requests to work with sensitive intelligence gathering platforms. That a media organization which must certainly deal with the embed process on a regular basis got this entirely wrong is stunning.

The facts mentioned above were easily crosschecked with additional inquiries to me, investigations via the web or some simple questions within their own organization. A media organization should pride itself on obtaining the facts, particularly when they are easily obtainable.

A Suggestion of Impropriety

In an email to Mr. Finer expressing my displeasure with being labeled a military information operation, Mr. Finer suggested I read the entire article. I assured him I did. The title and subtitle are not meaningless to the context of the article; it is implied I was a tool of the military, when in fact the military had no influence whatsoever in what I said from Iraq.

The details of my embed are then followed with a discussion on military information operations, the Lincoln Group’s activities in paying for positive articles to be published in Iraqi publications, and the military funding Iraqi radio stations. The implication is clear: a blogger embedding in Iraq must be part of a nefarious scheme by the military to influence the perceptions on Iraq.

The truth is far more mundane. I wasn’t paid a dime to report from Iraq by the Marines, nor was I influenced in any way in what I could or could not write about. I had full control over the where and when of my embeds. Never once was my work subject to the approval or review of the military. I wrote what I experienced, both the good and the bad.

The invitation to come to Iraq was an invitation only. The invitation to embed alone did not allow me entry. As mentioned above, proper media credentials were required. This invitation merely was motivation for me to take my coverage of Iraq to the next level; instead of reporting from afar, I could provide some first hand accounts from Iraq and assess the situation on the ground on my own.

I questioned Captain Pool about journalists being invited to embed with the military. He assured me that journalists have been invited to embed prior to operations, and Mr. Finer himself was invited at one point in time, which he declined. My invitation to embed with the Marines was neither unique nor special under these circumstances.

In the past, the established media has paid Iraqi stringers that have turned out to be insurgent or al-Qaeda operatives. And they have provided cover for Saddam’s brutal regime in order to maintain a Baghdad office. Never have these improprieties caused the media to question the motivations of their counterparts as the motivations of my embed have been questioned.

Any suggestion the trip was funded by a single entity, such as those being hurled by the left-of-center bloggers, is both laughable and easily disproved as I kept meticulous records of those who kindly donated to assist in defraying the costs. This could have been easily confirmed by the reactionary pundits by a mere inquiry. Instead, it is easier to hurls insults, innuendo and rumor about my means and motivations to go to Iraq than to get to the truth.

I organized the trip without any outside assistance, save that of a few trusted friends and my wife. It was funded entirely by donations from my readers. Well over 700 of my readers donated approximately $33,000, plus equipment and services, including plane tickets, a bullet proof vest, and other items. The average donation was about $50. The number of readers that donated $200 or more can be counted on the digits of my four limbs, the number of $500 donations can be counted on one hand, and a single donor contributed $2,000. This was an individual, and not an organization or corporation.

Influence vs. Propaganda

Perhaps the most disconcerting theme of the article relates not to my embed, but to the greater issue of military information operations and equating these efforts with al-Qaeda sponsored propaganda efforts in Iraq. Cori Dauber at RantingProfs neatly summarizes the difference:


On the one hand, finally, there’s a recognition that the enemy is engaged in information operations, that there needs to be some critical reflection regarding what they do and how they do it, that there’s a strategy underlying their behavior. On the other hand, that’s treated with equivalence to information ops American forces engage in. The difference is American forces are trying to influence the way articles are placed by, you know, influencing the way articles are placed, while the enemy are trying to influence the way articles are placed by staging events — meaning by killing people. It ain’t quite the same thing.


Equating military information operations with al-Qaeda propaganda efforts is a form of moral equivalence of the worst sort. The U.S. military is conducting an influence campaign to draw attention to the news which is missed by the media on a daily basis. Their belief (and one that I share) is the portrayal of events in Iraq do not reflect the actual situation on the ground. While the articles may be viewed as “favorable” to the Coalition, the question is, are they accurate and factual? The Washington Post does not address this issue, nor does it provide evidence that the military is running a disinformation campaign.

Richard Fernandez describes the difference between reporting and propagandizing as such: “The clear mark of a propagandist is one who consistently misrepresents events, allowing for occasional errors which every human being must make. Track record matters.”

al-Qaeda is running a shear disinformation campaign which uses human beings as props in events such as beheadings and execution styled killings. It manufactures events, such as the faux uprising in Ramadi in the beginning of December. The truth is not relevant to al-Qaeda’s propaganda operations, only results matter.

Critics of my writings on Iraq have every right to criticize, but in fairness they should judge the accuracy of my analysis and reporting. Those who question what I witnessed in Iraq can, with some effort, contact the soldiers and Marines I talked to and wrote about to confirm the events took place as I describe. The test of time will show if my reporting from Iraq was truthful reporting or propaganda.

A review of my analysis of operations prior to embedding in Iraq will show I was able to predict the timing and order of operations in Western Iraq over the late summer and fall of 2005. At one point during Operation Steel Curtain I halted my predictions out of fear I was compromising operational security. I did this out based on my own concerns for compromising operational security, not by the request of the military, despite the fact that being “right” would have enhanced my credibility. Some things are more important than reputation.

The information I used in my analysis didn’t come from inside or classified sources, but from a careful study of the situation in Anbar province and the political and military situation, which included the growth of the Iraqi Army, the importance of the Euphrates Ratline to al-Qaeda and the insurgency, and the desire of the Iraqi government and U.S. military to put a dent into the most dangerous and deadly elements of the insurgency.

Perhaps Messrs. Finer and Struck should have asked Colonel Stephen Davis why he extended the invite to embed. It was the analysis of the operational situation which prompted the invite from the Marines. The rest of the embed was of my own doing, and my opinions and experiences were entirely my own.


December 27, 2005 03:17 PM | Permalink
Link Posted: 12/27/2005 7:40:45 PM EDT
Smear by innuendo and fabrication… when you don’t like what you read make shit up and imply something is wrong WITHOUT ONE SHRED OF DAMN EVIDENCE.

The Washington Post whose reporters don’t leave the hotel when in Iraq are going to critique reporters that actually went in to the field.
Link Posted: 12/27/2005 9:24:02 PM EDT

Originally Posted By Max_Mike: The Washington Post
Losing market share. Waaaah! Losing influence. Someone page a Waaaahmbulance!
Link Posted: 12/27/2005 9:29:10 PM EDT
The WP wouldn't even have to worry about Yon and that other guy if they didn't let their political agendas steer their coverage of the news to the point amateurs are saying "I could do your job, better, more fairly and more accurately, with no training, and more cheaply." Instead they attack the bloggers horning in on their once monopolistic racket, all while denying they have any political bias at all.
Link Posted: 12/28/2005 4:35:44 AM EDT

Originally Posted By raven:
The WP wouldn't even have to worry about Yon and that other guy if they didn't let their political agendas steer their coverage of the news to the point amateurs are saying "I could do your job, better, more fairly and more accurately, with no training, and more cheaply." Instead they attack the bloggers horning in on their once monopolistic racket, all while denying they have any political bias at all.


actually, none of those so-called "real" journalists would have to worry about bloggers if they'd stray more than 50 feet from the palestine hotel in baghdad.
Link Posted: 12/28/2005 5:03:11 AM EDT
Yep, the leftist mainstream media is losing control and with it what little sanity it has left. I believe the majority of americans are becoming more sophisticated on how they percieve the news. They are now doubting the mainstream media since they have repeatedly been shown to harbor consistent biases. The big mistake of the mainstreamers is that they are not policing themselves. If the big three really wanted to be taken seriously again they would have kicked dan rather out on his ass along with jason blair etc. When they held back and protected them even after they were proven to be full of shit they only damaged their own credibility. BTW, it is the same thing many police departments are doing. By covering for your employees when they are definitely in the wrong they only lose the respect of the people and the people remember these things a hell of a lot longer they most give them credit for.
Top Top