Reporters embed with the units out this way from time to time. They’ll even go on the missions, which I certainly respect them for. I had a chance to sit down with the latest visitor to our little patch of the world for about 15 minutes in the middle of the night recently as she was on her way somewhere else. She was accompanied by several soldiers and a couple of Afghan workers carrying her four different bags. Personally, I wouldn’t let any reporter into this valley that couldn’t carry all her own gear herself, as to me the large number of bags is a quick indicator that this person is going to be a pain in the ass. Anyway, after chatting for a few minutes I asked her exactly how the tasking comes down to her from her superiors on what she should write about, where she should go, etc. She told me that they basically told her to go to one of the more dangerous areas of the country and write about the good and bad things we as Americans were doing in the war effort. Of course, as a marine deeply involved in what’s going on out here and an amateur writer myself, I found it laughable that her superiors found her, a graduate of the Berkeley school of journalism, the appropriate person to spend a week or two out here and then write about “the good and bad things in the war effort”. But given the magazine she writes for I’m not sure why I’m surprised. I’m pretty sure I can count the number of decent current events written media on one hand…let’s see, there’s Foreign Affairs, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and…I think that’s it. Suffice to say she doesn’t write for any of those.
Frankly, I’m not sure why the military lets these people come out here. I just don’t see the good that’s going to come from letting people with no military background or education in the subject write and make judgments on the war effort at the tactical level. To me, you should have to be an expert on a subject to write about it for a major news outlet. Show me that you have some experience and education in the subject matter, and then maybe I’d let you write about it for my publication. Despite her ignorance on company-level counter-insurgency operations, I suppose if she could just report the facts it’d be fine, but when she’s tasked with making judgments based on limited time and exposure, then to me she is way out of her depth and therefore has no place here whatsoever. At any rate, the Army pretty much let her have the run of the place and seemed to cater to her every whim. She repeatedly bothered the marines for access to the Afghan National Army and other things and people related to us, entreaties which we repeatedly denied and have denied every other reporter who’s been here save one. In that case we were given an order from our commander to deal with a particular reporter, and we didn’t mind since he was an Afghan national. I’ll give this latest reporter credit though for at least trying to get to the ANA. We’ve had reporters in the valley that didn’t even attempt to make the ANA a part of their story. To come out here and write a story on the war and not include the ANA is only getting half the story, but half is all anyone is getting for now around here…unless maybe we see someone show up from those periodicals mentioned above.
I suppose the larger issue is the future of written media as a whole. Being someone who delivered newspapers everyday from the age of 13 until I was 18, I look upon the demise of the newspaper industry with some sadness, but the really unfortunate thing would be if newspapers let declining revenues affect their journalistic integrity. I think it's inevitable that this will happen since newspapers are a business and businesses do what they have to do to stay in the black. If this means hiring more inexperienced and less capable reporters and directing them to write sensationalistic articles in order to try and hold on to their base of readers, then that's probably what the written media companies will do.