interviewed Michael Ware
today about his job as a war correspondent for Time magazine in Iraq. Some of it reminded he of an old soldier telling some green corporal about "the things these old eyes have seen"--sort of like the narrator in Gunda Din, the great poem by Rudyard Kipling.
Of course, Ware isn't that old, but he seems to have seen a lot and built up a list of exploits that would impress anybody. If he'd ridden horses on these exploits, they'd have been shot out from under him. There's no doubt that he has taken some hairy risks in order to report on the the insurgents as well as the Coalition.
What bothered me about his attitude toward the war, which seems quite negative, is that he doesn't seem to have any basis for judging it a failure. He spouts lists of our failures without any concept of how long the transformation we are trying to bring should take. He stated that he hadn't been there under Saddam, so how could he know whether things are better or worse than what went before? This is quite surprising, considering the times I've heard journalists talk about "context." Three years in and we haven't turned Iraq from a broken down thugocracy into a model of democracy yet?! Yes, Zarqawi is still at large and there are a variety of groups out for revenge, power, civil war, etc., but is that a reason to give up--to abandon what we've accomplished? We are working toward the goal of a government amenable to its people and an Iraqi Army and Security Force capable of dealing with such groups, and we're seeing that happen, but you'd never know it from our largest newspapers and TV news networks.
I wonder if he'd ever spent any time just traveling around to various towns to see what the soldiers not engaged in shootouts with resistance guerillas are doing. He seemed dismissive of the military. He definitely didn't seem too interested in our efforts to rebuild the infrastructure and economy of the country. Not enough adrenaline, or just the knowledge that anything he wrote about the peaceful things going on would never get published.
He's worked hard to form what CNN describes as "exclusive access to the Iraqi insurgents, spending months with them for [a Time magazine] cover story." Well, he knew he could get a cover story out of it, didn't he. But what else did that story do besides provide a sympathetic portrait of these people. He admitted that he'd received death threats for publicizing a tape of Zarqawi he'd gotten hold of. And he claimed that he had written his reports in such a way as not to make himself into a target, but without lowering his journalistic standards. Yeah, right.
Hugh asked him at one point if he didn't see these fighters as the bad guys, since they were bombing innocent civilians and policemen, and he sidestepped the question, with the suggestion that if he said yes, his ability to continue reporting might be endangered. The thing is, that people here in the U.S. do see these people as bad guys, with the exception of the Chomskyites who think that any enemy of America is a noble freedom fighter. To the extent one feels that he has to be careful in how he writes so as not to make the terrorists angry is not objective anymore no matter what he says.
Another thing that struck me was his "us versus them" attitude toward the military, as though he were in competition with it somehow. He has to have picked that up from other journalists, since he wasn't trained for journalism but for law. It seems de rigeur for journalists to believe that anything from the government or military HQ is a lie. He emphasized the number of lies he'd been told by our military. Is this just to dramatize his own superior news-gathering skill, or just an anti-establishment bias?
Update: Wow! The transcript is already up at Radioblogger.
Nice work, Generalissimo!
Hugh has made this a symposium topic with some specific questions. I didn't address them specifically above but I will below:
Q: Is Michael Ware doing a good job as a journalist?
AST: There's a big difference between what journalists think their job is and what I think it is. In their view, it's to tell the stories the government doesn't want told. He's probably doing that. In my view, the job is to give readers and viewers a real feel for how the war is going for our side, and I think they're failing badly.
Q: Is he helping or hurting the effort to pacify Iraq and help it towards stable democracy?
AST: I think that Time-Life Inc. is hurting our efforts by making stories like this one
its magazine cover stories. The whole point of terrorism is to attract attention, theoretically to a groups goals and demands, and to incite fear. To the extent these groups are given publicity, they are encouraged to keep at it. Ware isn't an American, but he's an Australian and his fellow Aussies are fighting to defeat these criminals. If these tactics were being used by Arabs in Australia, I doubt that he'd see them as colorful warriors, because at home he'd see them as criminals. To me that's all they are.
Q: Should Time recall him? Should there be a time limit on all journalists in a theater of conflict like Iraq?
AST: What's the point? They'd just send someone just like him in to take his place. The problem is with the publication and its editors, not necessarily with Mike Ware. He's trying to get his reports published. They're the ones who demand that they contain moral equivalence. Meet the new guy. Same as the old guy.
I have to like the guy. He talks like Crocodile Dundee and he looks like his nose was shoved to one side in a rugby scrum or a bar fight. He's tough and hard driving, and I doubt the fairness of putting all the blame on him. He's a creature of those he works for. You can't blame him for writing what he knows will get printed.
But all of that just emphasizes what's wrong with our press and television news. They're so worried about looking American that they practically root against us. They are entitled to criticize the war if they want to, but they have no right to shade their reporting, and lend comfort to the criminals in Iraq.