Monday, November 22, 2004

Reporting on War.

Belmont Club has this regarding the NBC reporter on the story and filming of the Marine who killed a wounded insurgent in a mosque:

"Although Kevin Sites' weblog posting can be read, at one level, as a defense of a journalist's duty to report what he sees, it is now being used to convey the impression that a Marine now under investigation is guilty of shooting an inoffensive and wounded man. Sites himself does not say the Marine is guilty: he carefully avoids that; but was well aware that a journalist's story could easily be put to uses beyond his control. Describing his own video, Sites said:"

"We all knew it was a complicated story, and if not handled responsibly, could have the potential to further inflame the volatile region. I offered to hold the tape until they had time to look into incident and begin an investigation -- providing me with information that would fill in some of the blanks. ...
I knew NBC would be responsible with the footage. But there were complications. We were part of a video "pool" in Falluja, and that obligated us to share all of our footage with other networks. I had no idea how our other "pool" partners might use the footage. I considered not feeding the tape to the pool -- or even, for a moment, destroying it. But that thought created the same pit in my stomach that witnessing the shooting had. It felt wrong. Hiding this wouldn't make it go away. There were other people in that room. What happened in that mosque would eventually come out. I would be faced with the fact that I had betrayed truth as well as a life supposedly spent in pursuit of it.
When NBC aired the story 48-hours later, we did so in a way that attempted to highlight every possible mitigating issue for that marines actions. We wanted viewers to have a very clear understanding of the circumstances surrounding the fighting on that frontline. Many of our colleagues were just as responsible. Other foreign networks made different decisions, and because of that, I have become the conflicted conduit who has brought this to the world."

Sites also says this:

"During the course of these events, there was plenty of mitigating circumstances like the ones just mentioned and which I reported in my story. The Marine who fired the shot had reportedly been shot in the face himself the day before. I'm also well aware from many years as a war reporter that there have been times, especially in this conflict, when dead and wounded insurgents have been booby-trapped, even supposedly including an incident that happened just a block away from the mosque in which one Marine was killed and five others wounded. Again, a detail that was clearly stated in my television report. ..."

This is what I am not getting. Yes, I understand why he didn't destroy it. That would have been wrong. The Marines themselves would have wanted to look at it, but couldn't he have used it without feeding it to the video pool knowing how it could be used against us? He uses the word "obligated." What does that mean? Was he under contract? Or was it more of a unwritten courtesy? Would he have been fired had he not shared it? This is important to know. It would tell me a little more of his motivation. It is very exciting for a reporter to have a "prize" piece of video. They get a lot of attention with it being aired everywhere with all video feeds. Did that maybe go into his decision?

Just asking.

Darrin Mortenson of the North County Times in defending Site's reporting tells of time in Fallujah where he witnessed a Marine shoot an unharmed Iraqi talking on his cell phone. He reported the incident to the Marines, but he goes on to say:

"It was instructive: What we had witnessed and documented was how the insurgency grows -- something the military and folks at home seemed very uncomfortable hearing about."

This is problem here to me. Does anyone else see it? This reporter Mortenson is certainly putting himself in the place of being all knowing here, isn't he? Did it ever occur to him that the Marine might have known something the reporter didn't? Perhaps being told that cell phones were being used to activate bombs at our forces? ( a not uncommon occurrence), perhaps even notified that that was exactly what this man was doing? I am just speculating here. For all I know the Marine could very well have shot this man against all engagement rules, but this reporter is assuming the worst, why? And why does he feel that he is instructing us and the marines on how the insurgency grows? Did he not think the Marines had a clue about anything going on there? It sure seems like it to me. Perhaps the military wasn't uncomfortable hearing about it, maybe they just disagreed and had intelligence saying otherwise.

Just wondering.

Do you see what I am saying here? On his website Sites says that "the wounded man made no sudden movements before the Marine opened fire on him. ... "

Perhaps it never occurred to Sites that in the sentence where he says "the wounded man made no sudden movements," he should have added...."That I saw."
Is it possible that the Marine, who I am imagining had a laser beam focus on the guy, could have seen movement?

My point is that as we know the Marines will investigate and the Marine in question will either be found guilty of ignoring rules of engagement or he will be justified. But these reporters seem to have a sense of being the ones who really know what is going on in this situations. They report as if they are above the fray.
I think it is fair to say that if one has never been a Marine, then one can never really know the knowledge, training, and expertise that goes into being one.

It is not the filming of the incident that is making people so mad. It is the arrogance of the reporting behind it and either the reporter's seemingly ignorance of Marine training, or just not caring that he knows little about that training. It is the fact that this is war and awful mistakes happen, but one should not use those mistakes, if that is what they are, to further one's career, if that is what he is doing.

Just speculating.

UPDATE: This from CentCom . The incident occurred yesterday afternoon. Wonder if anyone was filming it???