The New York Times linked to this blog a couple of weeks ago, which explained for me why my site had taken such a jump in its number of visitors. Of course, the NYT discovered the blog and labeled it as a blog by a deployed soldier only after I'd returned. At any rate, I'm flattered by the exposure. One of the other effects of the NYT link was this blog was discovered by a reporter for NPR who then requested a phone interview with me for his story about blogging and social networking while deployed. I was happy to give him my two cents on the issue, though I wish he'd've made it more clear that I didn't want my name associated with the blog because I don't think it's right to use military service to publicize yourself. I did mention the fact that I'm going to be continuing my military service, but fear of reprisals or whatever is not why I don't put my name on the site (see below). At any rate, it was a good article and I'm glad to have been a contributor to it.
I think the blogging done by service members while on deployment is generally a good thing, and I was happy to have been put in a position where I could write about things that people would be interested in reading. I didn't see it as my duty to write positively. I just tried to be as honest with myself as I could be with it, while also keeping in mind that I did not always have the bigger picture on things.
I can see where concerns about blogging on the part of the Pentagon would come in, as they have every right to be concerned with the information that comes out of theater, given how important public opinion is in sustaining the war effort. Service members who are bloggers would seem to have a more authoritative voice on the war than an embedded reporter given their status, but then service members who blog don't really reach very many people. Even with the New York Times linking to this site recently, I've never had more than 300 unique visitors in a day and I average about 50, of whom I probably know a third personally. In short, a site like this reaches such a small proportion of the populace that it simply wouldn't be worth the effort on the part of the Pentagon to try to control it, which was the conclusion the military seems to have reached on the censoring of letters sent from soldiers home during prior conflicts.
The Stars and Stripes recently had an article about the Pentagon profiling reporters. I found the article quite lacking in substance and have no qualms whatsoever about a private consulting group being used to check the accuracy of information being presented to the public by reporters. The Pentagon claims they profile reporters on the accuracy of their reporting, not the content, which is something I believe. That being said, I'm pretty sure that if a reporter consistently reported only on the negative, though true, aspects of the war then he or she might find it harder to get an embed.
I can say that we had many reporters come and go and the stories they put out were accurate and fair in my opinion. Those reporters were treated with respect and granted quite a lot of access to what we were doing. We didn't always give them everything they wanted, but then it was often our call on whether to accept an embed or not, so we made the call, almost always based on factors that had nothing whatsoever to do with the reporter himself and what he or she might write about us (see prior blog entry). We refused to accept one reporter simply because we didn't think she could hack it physically moving up and down the mountains with us. What she may have written, I guess we'll never know.
I think the more interesting question is if the Pentagon is indeed profiling reporters for the sake of controlling the types of stories that get printed, is this necessarily a bad thing? Freedom of press is a great thing, but it doesn't mean every type of information and story is at the disposal of every reporter who wants to come out and write. If we have information that is classified and unreleasable for security purposes, where do we draw the line on war reporting? Moreover, assuming the lawmakers we've elected to make decisions and run the country have access to all the best information available, aren't they in a better position to make decisions on how far to go with this war than the general populace? Well, at least in theory anyway...? Does the public have to have a role in every decision? Do we want democracy to evolve to the level where public opinion controls every decision that's made for the country as a whole? I think ideally you have a selfless leader who makes the right calls based on unbiased thought processes and good information. We're so far from that though that maybe public opinion is the best way to reach a decision.