If you’ve ever been to a movie about the military with someone in the military, then you know the annoying phenomenon of having them point out all the spots where Hollywood gets it wrong.
Military folks have the same problems with journalists who write about the military too.
Putting medals or insignia in the wrong place on a movie character’s uniform is one thing. Calling an armored personnel carrier a “tank” because it is armored and has a cannon is just plain laziness. Misidentifying military units because calling a unit by its actual correct designation chews up an entire second of airtime is frivolous and lazy.
But when one’s ignorance of the military effects the tone of a story then it becomes a bit more awkward because the reporter’s lack of knowledge, concern and care about getting it right begin to effect public opinion.
That’s one of the problems with this Newsweek story on MSNBC (via Instapundit).
In the story, Christian Caryl and John Barry of Newsweek point out the wonders of the occupation as practiced in Mosul by the 101st Airborne Division. The general tone of the story (and another story by Max Boot last September in the Weekly Standard) is that the 101st has done everything right in Mosul. The unanswered question then left in everyone’s mind is, “What is everyone else in Iraq doing wrong?”
The answer is provided by Caryl and Barry in their story but they never follow it up or even nod in the direction of why the 101st “did it right” in the first place.
As the general remarked to Newsweek last week, “It’s difficult to be kind when you’re getting shot at.”
And that’s exactly the point isn’t it? Other units in Iraq, notably in Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle, haven’t exactly had as warm a reception as the 101st, have they? Then again, maybe the reader won’t understand this due to this kind of reporting.
When the 101st hit Mosul, as the article points out, the violence was directed inward, not at the 101st. That was plainly not the case in Fallujah, Tikrit, Samarra and Baqubah.
Caryl and Barry tend to imply that because the 101st has used a softer touch and that other, heavier, units haven’t is why those units are having “issues.” How else would you take this passage?
They reached out to the locals by patrolling the streets on foot rather than in tanks and armored vehicles.
Caryl and Barry then fail to point out one small detail. The 101st doesn’t have any “tanks and armored vehicles.” That’s where ignorance gets you into trouble. Ignorance like this tends to create an impression in the reader without actually saying anything. Because the authors don’t know what they don’t know, and perhaps did not dig enough to find out, readers get a “feeling” from a piece based on incomplete information.
It’s tough to do all the things in the other parts of Iraq that the 101st has done in Mosul, with the speed in which they have done them, when you’re getting shot at. This isn’t to detract from the accomplishments of the 101st at all. It is simply to point out there are reasons why other units don’t have the glowing press of the 101st and perhaps those reasons should actually be pointed out – however obliquely – in order to achieve some kind of balance.
What the 101st is now learning in Mosul is what units closer to Baghdad (82d Airborne, 4th Infantry, 1st Armored) have known for a while. Rebuilding a country is a bitch when you’re under fire, or the threat of fire. Lesson Two is: cracking heads when you take casualties does not endear you to the locals. Again, a lesson folks further south than Mosul have known for a while now.
Caryl and Barry also seem to need a fact checker because as has been pointed out in numerous places on the net, the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) funding which the 101st relied on heavily is not, I say again, not cut off. Caryl and Barry don’t say “temporarily disrupted” (which it is) or “on hold” (which it is not) or use any other term to hedge their bets. They say “cut off.”
If words didn’t actually mean things I wouldn’t nitpick.
The problem is the “Byzantine process” by which the CERP funds are disbursed. Well, you know what? I don’t have a dog in this fight but that’s just a BS excuse.
Getting repair parts in the Army is a “Byzantine process” too. Getting a Purple Heart for a wounded soldier is a “Byzantine process” (go ahead, try and do it without the right paperwork and all the “right” stamps and signatures up the chain). Hell, getting ANYTHING done in the Army financial or logistics systems is a “Byzantine process.” You know what soldiers do? They deal with it. They get out ahead of the damn bureaucracy and make things happen. They, to borrow a line, adapt, overcome and improvise. What they don’t do is whine about how hard it is or throw up their hands and say, “We’re in combat! We shouldn’t have to do this!”
(I concur that they shouldn’t have to do it, but that isn’t the way it is. Deal with it.)
If the CERP funding isn’t flowing and that Division commander doesn’t have his G-4 sleeping on someone’s desk in CPA Baghdad until it does, well, let’s just say it’s going to be a while before he gets it.
And maybe, just maybe, if there weren’t so many folks trying to make political hay out of how any type of money in Iraq is spent, then the folks in Washington bureaucracy wouldn’t feel the need to put so many strings and “controls” on it. It’s the natural response inside the Beltway, Congress raises the profile of an issue, and bureaucrats get nervous.
That, just like Instaman asks, is something to write your Congressman about.