Jewish World Review Jan. 25, 2002 / 12 Shevat, 5762

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Journalists making road to peace a bumpy ride, or: A case study in stupidity -- A POLL of 400 registered voters by Andres McKenna Research asked Americans what they thought would be the most significant obstacle to continuing the war on terror. The largest obstacle, cited by 27 percent of respondents, was the terrorists themselves. But right behind them, at 26 percent, was the news media.

The reason why so many Americans think this was illustrated by a question asked of Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld at a recent Pentagon press briefing by AP radio correspondent Thelma LeBrecht. She likened the absence of air conditioning for the Al Qaeda prisoners at the Guantanamo naval base to a form of torture:

"In a few months it's going to be very very hot down there and there is going to be more complaints about them being held in open conditions like that," Ms. LeBrecht said. "The criticism being the open-ended nature, that they are going to be there for an undetermined period, how would you respond to that?"

It is hard to match Ms. LeBrecht for the jaw-dropping stupidity of her question. But the reporter for Reuters News Service (the news service that doesn't use the word "terrorist" because it doesn't know what one is) did his best:

"Rumsfeld also noted the climate in Cuba is warmer than in Afghanistan so holding the detainees in open-air cells with roofs was not mistreatment," the Reuters dispatch said. "(Rumsfeld) did not mention the disease-carrying mosquitoes on the Caribbean island."

This complaint was not merely trivial, but false. The London Sun said British investigators noted "the captives even were sprayed to protect them from mosquito bites."

Each day the Pentagon press conferences follow a drearily familiar script. Rumsfeld or some other spokesman spends a couple of minutes filling in an auditorium full of reporters on the latest developments in the war on terror, and an awful lot of time responding to mostly silly questions. Some of the questions are prompted by the bias former CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg recounts in his book of that name. In the briefing Ms. LeBrecht made infamous:

  • CNN's Jamie McIntyre likened U.S. Special Forces soldiers to Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists.

  • ABC's John McWethy asserted the Pentagon's failure to treat the terrorists as prisoners of war would boomerang on the United States in a future conflict.

  • NBC's Jim Miklaszewski fretted that "the U.S. will somehow lose the high moral authority in this war on terrorism by treatment by its treatment of these detainees?"

Some of the questions are prompted by juvenile games of "Gotcha!" by reporters trying to trick some poor general into an injudicious statement. But most of the stupid questions are prompted by an abysmal ignorance of all things military. There are thousands of journalists in Washington. But you can count on your fingers and toes those who have ever served in the Armed Forces.

The people have a right to know what the U.S. military is doing in their name, and on their behalf. But that right cannot be served by people who haven't a clue about what is going on.

Far fewer people should have Pentagon press credentials. They should be issued only to journalists who have completed a kind of basic training.

Send would-be war correspondents to Fort Bragg for a couple of weeks, at the expense of their news organizations. Put them up in a GP medium tent, with a sleeping bag for a bed, and a flak jacket for a pillow. Feed them MREs, or from field kitchens. Teach them how to dig a slit trench to accommodate their sanitary needs.

Fall them out at 0-dark-30 for PT. After she's run five miles with an 80-lb. rucksack on her back, even Thelma LeBrecht might be able to figure out why there are no women in Special Forces.

The bulk of each day would be spent in lectures and demonstrations on the strength and organization of each of the military services; its weapons and tactics, and weapon effects.

Journalists who attended such a boot camp almost certainly would gain a greater understanding of the military and, just possibly, a greater respect for it.

Comment on JWR contributor Jack Kelly's column by clicking here.

01/23/02:Toward a stronger defense at a lower cost
01/21/02: How Bush could be Generations X and Y's Kennedy ... and guarantee a GOP victory in the midterm elections

© 2002, Jack Kelly