Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Military journalism 

Joe Katzman at Winds of Change discusses "military blindness in the media," using a Chris Bray piece from Reason online as a jumping-off point.

Lack of basic military knowledge in the media has bugged me for a while. I have written about it before, but I can't remember if it was a blog post or a comment somewhere else, and I'm not going to dig around for it now. But suffice it to say that the amount of ignorance of basic military knowledge in the journalism field is staggering to someone in the military like myself.

From the journalist who is awed by the fact that Army Rangers carry machine guns and grenade launchers, to the Wall St. Journal colleague who asked if the Marines fought in WW2, Bray's article is worthy for its anecdotes alone.
It's sad that such things don't surprise me. Even Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough, who write almost exclusively on military matters, can be wrong, as they were about one day aboard USS NIMITZ that I experienced firsthand:

While Navy pilots are scoring bull's-eyes over Afghanistan, what was supposed to be a routine diplomatic and redeployment cruise for the carrier USS Nimitz turned into a day of mishaps on Oct. 10.

That morning, the huge ship barely missed a fishing boat. As the boat came out of the fog, the crew executed a quick turn that rattled everyone below deck. Later, while fixing a propeller, the carrier backed into a swell.

Then the carrier's C-2 COD (carrier onboard delivery) aircraft landed too far left, caught the restraining wire at a bad angle and stopped. Part of the COD hung over the flight deck. The passengers: 18 VIPs, among them Uruguay's defense minister, navy chief and congressional leader.
Some of the details in that story are wrong. In fairness, I witnessed none of these events firsthand. I was asleep when we missed the fishing boat and when we backed into the wave. I was in my office when the COD almost went overboard. As a member of the bridge watchstanding team, however, I had a couple of friends who were on the bridge when we missed the fishing boat and when we backed into the wave, and I talked to a number of people who witnessed the crash, including the Flight Deck Officer and a few guys who were in Pri-Fly (i.e. the tower).

I'll start with the fishing boat: It didn't come out of the fog. There was no fog. It was simply a small fishing boat many miles offshore at night with no lights. And with the relatively rough sea state, it blended in with the waves both visually and on radar. An eagle-eyed lookout probably saved some lives when he somehow spotted the boat in the dark sea. Okay, so this isn't a basic misunderstanding of the military, it's just a little detail.

The part about backing into a swell "while fixing a propeller" is a different matter. Each of the NIMITZ's four propellers is 21 feet in diameter and weighs 33 tons. Being propellers, they are underwater. You don't fix them at sea, you fix them in a drydock. Even if you could fix them at sea, you wouldn't do it in the middle of a dark, rough night. That Gertz and Scarborough assume that propellers can be fixed at sea indicates a severe lack of understanding of what exactly an aircraft carrier is all about. What happened is that we were running power plant and propulsion drills, and full astern propulsion + following sea + open door on the stern = angry people, when a wave ends up in their spaces.

Then there's the COD mishap. Gertz and Scarborough say the plane "landed too far left, caught the restraining wire at a bad angle and stopped."

Yes, it caught the wire at a bad angle. But it caught it way over to the right side of the landing area. (One guy I knew, manning a firefighting vehicle on the right side of the deck, ducked behind the vehicle just as the plane touched down.) When that happened, the wire, unspooling equally at both ends, snapped the plane to the left, where it came to rest. This isn't a lack of military knowledge either, it's just a bad grasp of physics. (And notice that the India Tribune called it an Air Force plane.)

Oh, and all three of those things did not happen in the same day--they spanned two days.

But regardless of what kind of errors were made in this one story, it taught me a valuable lesson: That the media (even generally pro-military guys like Gertz and Scarborough) get a lot of things wrong about the military.

I would say that more exposure to the everyday military is the solution to the media getting the story wrong, but Rowan Scarborough is a former Navy man himself.

But something certainly needs to be done. I see far too many news stories in which basic details are gotten wrong--details which could be fixed if the reporter took two minutes to check. They'll misidentify a rank on a uniform (or occasionally invent one that doesn't exist), or call an aircraft or vehicle by the wrong name, or try to look savvy by using militart teminology, and using it the wrong way.

More importantly, many just do not understand the basics of military life, of military discipline, of command structures, or of military capabilities and the strategies and tactics that guide the deployment of those capabilities.

I honestly don't know the cause, and I don't know the solution either. I just know there's a problem and that the American public is ill-served by journalists who don't understand what they're covering. The public doesn't know any more than the journalists do, so they take the stories at face value. And that's where the real problem begins.

QandO has more.
| |

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com

Search Popdex: