Embedded reporter comes away from front lines torn
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  1. #1

    Cool Embedded reporter comes away from front lines torn

    Embedded reporter comes away from front lines torn


    By Scott Bernard Nelson, Globe Staff, 4/22/2003

    BAGHDAD - A funny thing happened on the way home from Iraq this week: I found myself scoffing at the rear-echelon soldiers for how little they knew about war. About the real war, the one I had experienced, with enemy AK-47 rounds buzzing over your head and the smell of burning flesh and metal filling your nose. About enduring four weeks on the front lines, sleeping in open foxholes you'd dug to avoid shrapnel in the night. About looking terrible, smelling worse, and seeing people die.

    Where were the headquarters Johnnies then, I smugly asked myself this week as I walked the former headquarters of the Iraqi secret police, now home to the US Marines' First Division. Probably drinking coffee, eating hot meals, sleeping on cots in canvas tents, and moving arrows around on wall maps.

    My line of reasoning was patently ridiculous, of course. The men and women who wear the uniforms are professional soldiers; I'm a professional reporter. And not a particularly brave one, at that. Before the war, I wrote about bank presidents and insurance contracts and mutual funds for The Boston Globe's business section.

    Look up Stockholm syndrome in the dictionary, though, and you'll get a pretty good idea about what I was going through in those first hours away from combat. I had lived so closely for so long under such extreme circumstances with the Second Battalion, 11th Marines, fighting their way through Iraq, that I began to think and feel like a Marine.

    Therein lies the quandary for the hundreds of ''embedded'' reporters and photographers who covered Gulf War II and the editors who paid them to go. Did we sell our souls as journalists for access to the death and destruction at the front lines?

    As part of a first-ever war correspondents' partnership between the Department of Defense and media organizations, we reporters signed contracts limiting what we would say and when we would say it. In return, for the duration of the conflict the Pentagon let us eat, sleep, travel - and sometimes die - with the military forces we covered. (More than a dozen journalists died in combat.)

    Over time, it was inevitable that we would begin to view at least some things from the grunt's perspective.

    When the battalion I'd been living with drove into an ambush April 6 north of Iraq's capital, I did more than just empathize with the soldiers. I helped them in the battle.

    Like the other troops behind us in a convoy of Humvees, seven-ton trucks, and armored reconnaissance vehicles that day, I saw muzzle flashes coming from a window as we passed a squat building about 60 yards away. Several bullets skipped off the road in front of us, but nobody else in my vehicle saw where they were coming from.

    I yelled to the first sergeant in the gun turret above my head, telling him which building and which window the gunfire came from. He wasn't sure to where I was referring, so I yelled again, leaning out of the window to point out the location to our right. That's all he needed. He fired nearly 100 rounds out of his .50-caliber heavy machine gun into the building as we rumbled by. The muzzle flashes ended.

    We later learned that the gunman inside that building was among four members of Saddam Hussein's fedayeen militia who died in that failed ambush. No Marines were hurt.

    The ambush provides the most dramatic, although hardly the only, example of how I came to identify with the Marines over time. Other embedded journalists, including my Globe colleague Brian MacQuarrie and Jules Critten den of the Boston Herald, told similar stories of their time on the front lines. Whether I acted out of self-preservation that day or because of an affinity with the soldiers I was covering hardly matters. The question is whether the coverage I provided during the war was tainted as a result.

    I'd like to believe it wasn't. I'd like to believe mine was one of many diverse voices The Boston Globe used to tell the story of this war, and that good editors back home kept everything balanced and in perspective. I'd like to believe that, if nothing else, all of the embedded reporters added something worthwhile to the big-picture stories other journalists were writing from newsrooms, the Pentagon, and the armed forces central command in Qatar.

    In the end, it will be for someone else to decide. Big thinkers in both the media and the military will at some point begin to analyze whether the embedding program worked, from their various perspectives.

    Like the soldiers who fought on the front lines of this war, I just want to go home at this point to spend time with my family and think about something else for a while. We'll have to leave it to those rear-echelon guys to figure out how and when future wars will be fought - and covered.

    This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 4/22/2003.
    © Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

    Sempers,

    Roger


  2. #2
    The Boston Globe is pretty liberal in it's news coverage. Maybe this guy got a wake up call.


  3. #3
    I began to think and feel like a Marine.

    A cople of weeks does not make him a Marine even if he felt like one.


  4. #4
    I feel like a beer, that doesn't make me one though.


  5. #5
    Registered User Free Member Barrio_rat's Avatar
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    For a guy who "felt" like a Marine, he sure used the term "soldier" enough!

    Lucky for him though, he only had to do this for a few weeks - depending on when yer time in/career started, Marines serve anywhere from 3 - 30 years. Wonder if he'd make that commitment? Also, his time in Iraq may be over, but the soldiers and Marines are still there. Granted, some may be rotating, but not all of 'em and not just yet. Wonder if he'd go "embedded" with the same pay as the Marines he covered?


  6. #6
    April 22, 2003

    Successful media experiment led to ‘interesting dynamic,’ Brooks says

    By Alex Neill
    Times staff writer


    DOHA, Qatar — Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, point man for U.S. Central Command in the information campaign on the war in Iraq, gives the media mixed reviews for their handling of the big story.
    The world has watched as the Army one-star deftly fielded question after question, day after day, live from Central Command headquarters here. The lanky former West Point basketball player remained the picture of military bearing under the camera’s bright lights as journalists from throughout the world poked and prodded for scoops and scraps.

    Standing in crisply laundered camouflage fatigues before more than 100 television, radio and print journalists — and millions of broadcast viewers — he was unfailingly polite and answered the softball questions matter-of-factly. He was reliably vague when reporters pushed for details on troop movements, casualty figures, friendly fire incidents, commando operations and other sensitive or classified information.

    He was unflappable when journalists got testy, usually out of frustration at the vague answers.

    Late Easter Sunday, Brooks took time out from his typically 18-hour day to talk with Army Times in a 75-minute exclusive interview about media coverage of the war, his high-profile role and his military career.

    Topic No. 1 with Brooks was the media coverage of the war, specifically the historic move to “embed” some 600 journalists with the troops on the battlefield. He said much of the media frustration here was rooted in the information gap created by the real-time war reporting that was being provided by the embedded journalists. With their satellite telephones and other high-tech communications gear, they often were providing colleagues at Central Command headquarters in Doha with battlefield information before the military’s public affairs team here knew anything about it.

    “There’s real-time information that gets put out there that we often don’t have military reporting on,” said Brooks. “And so when I say, ‘I haven’t heard or seen the report,’ I mean I haven’t heard or seen the report. It’s not that I’m ducking it.”

    The rapid field reporting sometimes meant that information raced ahead of the truth, as it did when embedded journalists reported to colleagues here that three U.S. tanks were destroyed in battle near the Karbala Gap. The details, sorted out later, showed that the three vehicles were damaged but repairable.

    Nevertheless, Brooks said, “The question then comes up in the briefing: ‘It’s reported that you had three tanks destroyed.’ ”

    When Central Command officials denied losing three tanks, Brook said media center journalists responded by asking, “ ‘But the embedded media said you did and [they’re] up there in reality — why are you lying?’ That becomes the perception. It’s just a very interesting dynamic.”

    Still, he believes the embedding experiment worked out better than many military leaders or media members believed it would. The journalists learned what it’s like to be under fire and to share the bonds that are forged through combat, and much of the longstanding distrust between troops and journalists was erased, he said.

    The military benefited from that, as well as from the ability to see the battlefield live, he said.

    “When you see a task force moving down a highway into the center of Baghdad, weapons turned to flanks, destroying everything that encountered it, you get a very different picture,” he said.

    He believes such coverage represented the application of a lesson learned from the Gulf War, when the military greatly restricted media access to the battlefield. Many senior military leaders believe that was a mistake, he said.

    “There was lots of fighting, but there wasn’t lots of coverage,” he said. As a result, much of the American public held the false view that their military was “just driving through the desert.”

    Early media exposure

    Brooks said reporters in Doha — who represented media ranging from mainstream daily newspapers to such unlikely outlets as Popular Mechanics and ESPN — varied widely in their knowledge of military affairs. Some reporters earned marks of “A” in Brooks’ estimation, while others rated only a “C.” He would not grade more harshly than that, even though he said some media members “either had an agenda or did not represent themselves as journalists.”

    Similarly, he would not assign an overall grade to the media coverage.

    “Even uninformed questions may lead you to an opportunity to help reinforce the understanding of what it is that we’re doing,” he said.

    For Brooks, Army duty is in the blood. His father is retired Brig. Gen. Leo Brooks Sr., and his brother is Brig. Gen. Leo Brooks Jr., currently the commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

    Brooks said he was indoctrinated into the pressures of the media spotlight by an honor he earned as a West Point cadet himself more than 20 years ago. In his senior year of 1979-1980, he was named brigade commander, the student leader of the institution’s more than 4,000 cadets. He was the first African American appointed to the prestigious post.

    The honor brought immediate and intense nationwide media interest, he said. “Some of it was curiosity, but the intensity of it was not unlike this. So I really was warmed up for this a long time ago.”

    The honor also brought hate mail, he said, something he took as part of his education.

    “It was a rich set of experiences at an early age. But I put that behind me so that I could be an infantry second lieutenant,” he said, referring to his post-graduation career track.

    He accepts that he is seen by some as a symbol of success as an African American in the Army, but called that “a byproduct of who I am, not a focus. So if I’m devoted to my duty, to my wife, if I’m part of a family in which values are important and all that reflects on me as a positive symbol, then that’s mine to carry.”

    Brooks was an academic standout at West Point and a star forward on the basketball team, under then-Coach Mike Krzyzewski, now the legendary leader of the Duke University basketball team. Even then, Brooks was keeping the long days that are his routine. It led to one of his not-so-proud moments, when he fell asleep while studying and eating pizza, with embarrassing results.

    “Yes indeed, I found myself face down in a pizza at one point,” he said with a laugh, a rare departure from a friendly but reserved manner. “And of course, cadets being as they are, they got a picture of it. Someone got a picture. I’ve got to burn it.”

    Always an infantryman

    The ability to get by on four or five hours sleep has served Brooks well here. His day starts at “5:05” every morning and is spent running from meeting to meeting, coordinating the military’s operational picture and how it will be portrayed in the daily briefing. It’s much like a television news crew that’s always on deadline.

    His background as an infantry leader serves him well in understanding the developments on the battlefield and the interests of all the military components. It’s clear that his heart is still with the troops in the field, particularly the 3rd Infantry Division. He commanded the division’s 1st Brigade in the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo until last summer.

    The tour there had its dangers, but it was not combat. When the war in Iraq started, he was an observer as many of the men he commanded raced toward Baghdad, leading the coalition charge.

    “Whenever you see your unit perform well, the first thing you get is a tremendous sense of pride,” he said. “The next thing you get is a degree of concern, like a parent.

    “Some people have criticized me for not getting up there and talking about how many people were killed in a given day,” he said. “These are people I know; they’re never going to be a number to me.”

    Then, just for a moment, he strayed off message, the soldier in him silencing the spokesman.

    “Whether that’s … Pentagon policy or not, that’s someone else’s choice,” he said. “My choice is to not treat my friends like numbers.”

    Sempers,

    Roger


  7. #7
    Registered User Free Member DrPepper's Avatar
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    Scott Bernard Nelson was supposedly the embedded with my son's unit. Wont know for sure till I hear word from my son. All of his articles were ok but not the greatest. He wasnt the best pick for an war reporter. Although I will give him this, he never gave any information away that I know of.

    Pepper


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