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Milblog Day On The Hugh Hewitt Show: Why Can’t The MSM Cover Iraq?

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Following an opening interview with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, I was joined in studio by Sgt. T.F. Boggs, back from his second year-long deployment to Iraq, and on his way back to Ohio University to finish the two quarters between him and his BA in philosophy and English before applying to the Ohio State University Law School.  He is 23. He interrupted his studies because he felt a duty to serve.

Please listen to the program when it is posted here later tonight, and visit Sgt. Bogg’s blog as well as the other blogs whose authors appeared on tonight’s program:  Matt and Froggy from Blackfive, Smash from Indepundit, John from Castle Argghhh, Ace, and Bill Roggio.  The point of tonight’s show was to welcome Tim home, thank him for his service, educate the audience on conditions on Iraq from the perspective of a two-tour veteran, and to contrast the accumulated expertise and analysis of the guests with that of Mr. Rago, who appeared yesterday to mixed reviews, and who stands on the assertion he made in last week’s Wall Street Journal that “the right-leaning blogs exhaustively pursue second-order distractions–John Kerry always providing useful material–while leaving underexamined more fundamental issues, say, Iraq.”

The MSM has badly botched its Iraq coverage, and the effect is pernicious though unintended.  USMC Lt. General James Mattis made this point earlier in the week, but all of the milbloggers plus Ace and me added to the critique: The MSM is, collectively, helping the enemy.

The MSM does not consciously intend to do this (though one dissent was entered on this point.)  The MSM reporters in Iraq are often courageous and diligent about what they can cover, and some go often with the troops into the most difficult combat situations. MSM apologists eager to defend their institutions’ conduct quickly cite the best of the MSMers who are good indeed, and paint criticism of the MSM as motivated by partisanship than any genuine critique of the coverage.

But, according to the milbloggers (and Mattis), many MSMers have fallen into habits and methods which distort the course of the war to grave effect.  They cannot cover much of the war because of danger to their persons, and they are uninterested in many aspects of the war because –as is the case with all wars– many crucial aspects of the war are dull as stale doughnuts.  As Sgt. Boggs related, no reporter ever rode along with his transport conveys in the year that he delivered the crucial supplies to a slowly rebuilding Iraq, and he was unaware of any reporter ever accompanying any similar routine supply convoy.  Why would they?  There is no story in that.

Except that there is: It is the dull but crucial backstory to the rebuilding of Iraq.

Sgt. Boggs also relayed how he easily distinguishes between Shia and Sunni populations and towns, understands the basic history of Islam, understands the basic political divides of the various parties contending for power today, knows the foreign infiltration’s intensity and lethality, and, crucially, know the military and its routines.

And as for Iraq’s roads, climate, seasons etc, few are better schooled.  Two years in a country –one in the south and one in the north– teach you a lot.

I asked Sgt. Boggs what the MSM could do to improve their coverage of the war?

“Hire me and a bunch of my friends to be their reporters,” he replied.  (A paraphrase, but very close.)

And it struck me immediately that he is right.  Undeniably and completely right. There is no reason for MSM coverage of the war to be so deficient or lame.  There are thousands of returned veterans, from Colonel Bay on down to Sgt. Boggs, who know the country, know the military, know the enemy, and who know how to cover the war from the front and in depth.It is much easier to make them into producers, cameramen, on-air reporters and print journalists than it is journalists into war journalists comfortable with the military and wise about the enemy.

Some of the milbloggers are already accomplished journalists like Col. Bay.  Others are a long way towards being sound professionals like Sgt. Boggs.

My question is whether there is even one MSMer currently reporting from Iraq who was an Iraq or Afghan War veteran?  Even one?

And why aren’t there a hundred such veterans-turned-reporters?

And have the journalism schools bothered to track down the accomplished and returned warriors and ask them to lecture the journalists-in-the-making on how to cover the war?

One guest suggested MSM will not hire veterans because such a skills set will not produce the sorts of stories that advance the MSM’s agenda, which is an anti-Administration, anti-war agenda.  Perhaps he is correct. 

But it is undeniably true that there are ways to cover the war well –to “flood the (war) zone”– and to avoid the trap that that General Mattis describes the MSM as having fallen into.

There does not, however, seem to be the inclination.  For in depth reporting on Iraq –and the war’s many other fronts– we will have to continue to rely on new media.



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