My friend Bill Roggio, an Army veteran and Web logger who was embedded with U.S. Marines in
Iraq last fall, was a guest Saturday on a segment of the CNN show "On the Story." The topic
was news coverage from Iraq.
"On the Story," which airs at 7:00 p.m. EST, gets even lower ratings than the average CNN show,
so there's a question of how representative of American public opinion audience reaction is.
But before the segment with Bill began, host Ali Velshi conducted a little poll.
"Give me a show of hands if you have confidence in the news coming out of Iraq," Mr. Velshi
asked the studio audience. "It looks like about 30 percent of you.
"Let's see a show of hands of those of you who don't have confidence like (Defense Secretary)
Donald Rumsfeld says," he asked. "That looks like 90 percent of you."
Mr. Roggio gave the media a D+. Reporting often is inaccurate, usually lacks context, and
often aids al Qaida, he said.
The latest example of what bugs Bill has been the coverage of a U.S.-Iraqi operation which
began Thursday with an air assault.
"Operation Swarmer, a joint U.S.-Iraqi offensive around the northern Iraqi city of Samarra went
into its fourth day Sunday with very little to verify why it has been described as the largest
assault operation since the American-led invasion of Iraq three years ago," wrote UPI
correspondent Sana Abdallah.
"Contrary to what many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means
the largest use of air power since the start of the war," said Time magazine.
A journalist friend of former paratrooper W. Thomas Smith wanted to know: "Why are we launching
a massive bombing campaign in Iraq?"
The dimwits have confused an air assault (where infantry is moved by helicopter into contested
territory to conduct an operation) with an air strike (where fighter-bombers blow up something)
or a ground assault.
That Operation Swarmer has so far been bloodless by no means indicates it is a failure or
"overblown," Smith said. Dozens of suspected terrorists — including one thought to be a
ringleader of the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra last month — have been captured, and
several large caches of weapons have been seized.
It's also significant that Operation Swarmer was conceived by, and largely planned and executed
by, the Iraqi army. An air assault is the second most difficult tactical maneuver for ground
forces (only crossing a river under fire is more difficult), one which requires meticulous
planning. That this one was pulled off essentially without a hitch indicates how far the Iraqi
army (which, for all practical purposes, didn't exist a little more than a year ago) has come
in a very short time.
"The reporting on Operation Swarmer is a microcosm of the sub-par reporting on the Iraq war,"
Mr. Roggio said. "Events are immediately placed into a political context. Commentary is often
mixed in with reporting. There is little understanding of operational intent or how the
military even works. Operations are viewed as individual events, and not placed in a greater
context. Failure and faulty assumptions are the baselines for coverage and analysis. Success
is arbitrarily determined by a reporter or editor's biases. The actions of the U.S. and Iraqi
military are viewed with suspicion and even contempt."
CNN correspondent Abbi Tatton implied that because Bill is a former soldier, his view is
biased. "Are you not too close to this to be objective yourself?" she asked.
Consider the implications of this attitude. Would a reporter who is a lawyer (such as Fox
News' Megyn Kendall) be considered biased in covering the courts simply because she actually
knows something about the law? Would a reporter who is a doctor (such as CNN's Sanjay Gupta)
be considered biased simply because he actually knows something about medicine? Yet news
organizations consider it proper to have our wars covered by people who are unclear about from
which end of the rifle the round comes.
Journalists could overcome some of their massive ignorance of matters military if more would
embed with U.S. troops. But apparently they fear being tainted by the association. So they
rely on Iraqis like the AP stringer who "reported" an uprising in Ramadi last December which
Actor and antiwar activist Richard Belzer said he knows more about the war in Iraq than do U.S.
servicemen in Iraq because he "reads 20 newspapers a day." But 20 biased, shallow and
incomplete accounts don't add up to the truth.