Monday, February 11, 2008

Information warfare, embeds, and kidnapping

An Army study of the April 2004 Fallujah battle says media pressure caused the Iraqi government to pressure Americans to withdraw after only 5 days of battle. Only two media outlets covered the April battle: Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. Both broadcast numerous false reports of Americans committing war crimes against innocent civilians, inflaming national Iraqi sentiment against the American military.

Lessons were learned by the U.S.

In Second Fallujah, in Nov. 2004, U.S. military brought 91 embedded reporters, from 60 media outlets, into battle with them. False accusations of war crimes returned, but were drowned out by a majority of reportage which found little or no unethical action by American military.

Lessons were learned by Al-Qaeda and Sunni insurgents.

After Second Fallujah, insurgents began a campaign of kidnapping American and other foreign journalists, with the apparent goal of once again controlling the information battlespace. Insurgents also began getting their own people to covertly hire out as stringers for American and other foreign media operations. Insurgent stringers reported stories back to Baghdad hotel American journalists, who then filed the stories - largely unchecked and unchanged - for American news services. Michael Yon wrote about meeting one such stringer, whom Yon believed was obviously making stuff up to suit his purposes. That stringer's faux facts were definitely making their way into American homes. AP photographer Bilal Hussein, currently awaiting trial in Iraq for conspiring with insurgents, is an example of an insurgent-influenced stringer.
Wretchard on Hussein.
Malkin on Hussein.

The kidnapping campaign was very successful. Western journalist were driven into their Baghdad hotel headquarters, from whence only the bravest ventured forth - and even then only a couple of times a week, for 2-3 hours at a time, during which they zipped into a section of Iraq, gathered some quotes, and zipped fearfully back to their hotel. Media were predisposed to being against the war anyway. Their 2-3 hour trips allowed them no real opportunity to absorb conditions on the ground. Two trips a week (or zero trips, ever) mostly allowed media to justify their group opinion that Iraq was a quagmire. Insurgents made certain to blow up one car bomb, every day, within range of hearing of the media's Baghdad hotel headquarters, and also early in the morning - in time to make U.S. news cycles. Therefore, that day's news from Iraq would be: Another Car Bomb Exploded.

Belmont Club:
And the most effective way for insurgencies to recreate the "access journalism" so advantageous to them was to kidnap journalists. This they did to great effect. The process through which they cleared the information battlefield of anything they didn't control is plain from the stats. For example, the nearly all of the journalists kidnapped in 2004 were foreign, many from major news agencies like the New York Times, the Times of London and Radio France. By 2005, the majors had been driven into the Green Zone. The kidnap victims for 2005 tended to be the lower tier: freelancers, reporters from obscure agencies like Romania Libera or Iraqis. By 2006, all but one of the kidnapped journalists was Iraqi. The sole exception that year was Jill Carroll. In 2007, every single one of the journalists kidnapped was Iraqi. Direct access by the Western press had been effectively ended.

These figures demonstrate how the insurgency purposely drove the press from the field to recreate the information monopoly they found so advantageous in the opening days of the First Fallujah, when only journalists from Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya were reporting from the scene. The kidnapping campaign compelled news outlets to rely on stringers who could then be controlled by the insurgency and who could be counted on to miraculously stumble on photo opportunities showing insurgents in action, such as the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of an Iraqi election worker being killed on Haifa Street. The effective riposte again turned out to be finding ways to break the reportorial stranglehold the enemy had established. The information blockade runners turned out to be bloggers and journalists embedded in the military, of whom Michael Yon is perhaps the most famous. The Iraqi bloggers were protected by their anonymity and the embedded journalists were protected by coalition troops. These reporters outflanked the wall of "access journalism" which was gradually restricting the majors and created alternative sources of reportage. Although few in number these blockade runners played a pivotal role in penetrating the "bodyguard of lies" with which al-Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency had surrounded itself.
Another blockade runner is Michael Totten:
After having spent several days Baghdad’s Green Zone and Red Zone, I still haven’t heard or seen any explosions. It’s a peculiar war. It is almost a not-war. Last July’s war in Northern Israel and Southern Lebanon was hundreds of times more violent and terrifying than this one. Explosions on both sides of the Lebanese-Israeli border were constant when I was there.

You’d think explosions and gunfire define Iraq if you look at this country from far away on the news. They do not. The media is a total distortion machine.
Another blockade runner is Matt Sanchez:
A sheik from Ramadi put it best: "We have our own bad people and they are much worse than yours." I was surprised to learn many Iraqis were angry the prison had been closed down, because it showed American weakness.

The big con job the media has inflicted on the American people, by systematically distorting so many details about the conflict in Iraq, does more than skew politics back home; it makes Americans distrust the sources of their information and is an assault on democracy.
too many media outlets have stopped reporting on what is, by far, the most defining event of this century.

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