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What’s the problem with telling the Iraqis’ side?

Post by Scott Fontaine on June 23, 2009 at 10:15 am with No Comments »
June 23, 2009 10:15 am

And since I’m posting about Stars and Stripes, I should give the paper credit: It has the best coverage of Iraq by a Western media outlet today. It receives funding from the Department of Defense but is editorially independent — no S-2 folks poring over each story before it goes out. Its reporters certainly don’t envision themselves as stenographers for guys with stars on their shoulders.

But apparently they’re doing too good of a job for the military’s taste.

From today’s edition:

Asserting that Stars and Stripes “refused to highlight” good news in Iraq that the U.S. military wanted to emphasize, Army officials have barred a Stripes reporter from embedding with a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division that is attempting to secure the violent city of Mosul.

Officials said Stripes reporter Heath Druzin, who covered operations of the division’s 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in February and March, would not be permitted to rejoin the unit for another reporting tour because, among other things, he wrote in a March 8 story that many Iraqi residents of Mosul would like the American soldiers to leave and hand over security tasks to Iraqi forces.

“Despite the opportunity to visit areas of the city where Iraqi Army leaders, soldiers, national police and Iraqi police displayed commitment to partnership, Mr. Druzin refused to highlight any of this news,” Major Ramona Bellard, a public affairs officer, wrote in denying Druzin’s embed request.

So the reporter’s main crime, in the view of military officials in Mosul, was that he reported what Iraqis told him? Aren’t these the people the Pentagon, Central Command, Multi-National Force-Iraq, et al, say we’re there to help?

There are a few other allegations: Druzin used quotes out of context (the old standby of an angry PAO), he “behaved unprofessionally” (no examples given in this story) and that he asked to use a computer to file a story during a communications-blackout period (he can ask; they can say no).

But here’s a whopper:

Additionally, Col. Gary Volesky, the 3rd Brigade’s commander, asserted that Druzin “would not answer questions about stories he was writing.”

Someone should tell Col. Volesky there’s something called the First Amendment. Reporters don’t need to say what they’re working on — some do as a courtesy, but it’s far from a requirement — and if the colonel tried to quash the story, it gets into a thorny issue: prior restraint by the federal government.

Or maybe the military should read the introduction to its own ground rules for embedding in Iraq: “These ground rules recognize the inherent right of the media to cover combat operations and are in no way intended to prevent release of embarrassing, negative or derogatory information.”

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