Military Prepares Profiles on Reporters

Military Prepares Profiles on Reporters Visiting War Zones - Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post.

The US military in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere regularly assesses the content and tone of the work of individual reporters to prepare for trips and interviews by those reporters, according to defense and military officials.

But the officials denied that the analysis has been used to exclude journalists from embedding with US military units in combat zones or to bar them from interviewing military personnel.

A controversy has arisen in recent days over media work performed for the US military command in Afghanistan by the Rendon Group, a contractor that classifies the content of stories by reporters as positive, negative or neutral in relation to military objectives...

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Okay, just read the comments - always a disheartening mistake.

Expressions of outrage (that would be justified if any fair observer could make a factual claim that war coverage had been overwhelmingly positive from a "Pentagon" POV) countered by wrong-headed arguments that the military is justified in banning any reporter who doesn't toe the line.

"Is it asking too much for reporters/editors to provide some perspective with the story"? That's a tough call for them - they have to "balance" getting readers riled up at the implication that all embeds are simply regurgitating Pentagon-approved facts with the knowledge that if they let it go too far they'll have to explain why that means "except ours, of course".

I just have to add one more thing. Check out the comments at the WashPo website for a good look at how stories like this are perceived (accusations of Big Brother, mind control, info war, etc). This should come as no surprise. It is certainly no surprise to me. I doubt that it is a surprise to Tyson or WashPo. Is it asking too much for reporters/editors to provide some perspective with the story, rather than just dropping the tidbits of information that are likely to rile people up? It is little wonder why this background info is sought.

Bingo. As a former embed put it over at my place:

"What's pitiful isn't that the military checks up on reporters prior to embedding them. I always assumed they kept a file somewhere of my stories they could refer back to. What's pitiful is that the military hired an expensive PR firm to do the same thing any Private could accomplish with a five minute Google search."

As for how a reporter is treated once embedded, that has a lot more to do with his/her personality than it does with their likely output.

I did this with every embedded reporter that worked with us in 2007. If this is controversial, then I hope that my old slides from the commander's update briefs never surface in the public domain because they were all tongue in cheek.

This is not done to limit access or to deter some reporters or otherwise control information. It is just a heads up to the commander and to the guys on the ground. A good reporter realizes that every unit has one or two morons who turn their brains off and start saying stupid things as soon as there is a microphone, camera, or reporter around. The good reporter just dismisses this. The bad reporter exploits it and presents the unit knucklehead as the typical Soldier whose views are representative of most. That is the basis for these reviews.

The fact that this job has been contracted out is not so much a testament to how much the military worries about this stuff, but is rather a testament to how absurd outsourcing and contracting has become. I did this work during my less busy hours - usually no more than 5 or 10 minutes per day. Now some contractors are banking a few grand per month for it? Sounds like a nice job if you can get it.