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Ignorance Pervasive in Reporting From Iraq

By Jack Kelly

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 never occurred.

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.

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