As we noted in our Blog Report yesterday, a cadre of pundits, bloggers and editorial writers are furious with CNN for airing portions of a video shot by Iraqi insurgents, which shows them targeting several American military personnel before the screen fades to black as the sniper pulls the trigger, hitting the U.S. troops.
The CNN piece was narrated by reporter Michael Ware, who has been reporting from Iraq since the invasion in 2003, first for Time magazine, and more recently for CNN. Anyone who has seen his reports on CNN, read his pieces in Time or watched the excellent Frontline documentary about Iraq knows that Ware is a careful, professional, tough and courageous journalist — one who has put his life on the line on more than one occasion to get the story.
As for the segment itself, Ware was careful to say that CNN received the tape “through intermediaries” who dealt with the Islamic Army of Iraq, and given his history of reporting about the insurgents, we know that he has contacts who have that kind of access. The fact that Ware has contacts who can reach out to the insurgency is — by reading many of the segment’s critics — what bugs CNN’s detractors most. (The fact is, many Western journalists in Iraq have similar contacts, just from having spent so much time reporting there, and working with their Iraqi staff members who may know a guy who knows a guy …)
How, the critics ask, can a reporter have information about how to contact members of the insurgency, and not share it with the military? It’s a fair question, but one that the critics are looking at through a proverbial straw hole.
Reporters are in Iraq to cover the story from every possible angle. Given the untenable security situation and the limitations that imposes on journalists, it’s a job that at times seems almost impossible.
The embedding process — for all its imperfections, as Michael Yon recently pointed out — gives reporters access to the coalition troops, their officers, and the front lines of combat. While we would always like to see more stories covering the troops, that angle has pretty much been taken care of (with considerable caveats, as per Yon’s piece).
But nearly four years into the war the American people — and our leadership — still have only the sketchiest understanding of who the enemy is. We know that it’s a mix of al Qaeda terrorists, Baathists, unemployed former soldiers, criminals and young men whose only source of income is acting as part-time IED planters and triggermen. As far as tactics go, according to reports coming out of Baghdad, the insurgents are increasingly using snipers (which CJR Daily reported last January), to harass U.S. troops. That’s a real story, and one the American people would surely like to know more about.
Enter Ware, CNN, and the insurgent tape they procured and aired. The network could have run a report about the sniper issue using stock footage, and the essential information imparted to the audience would have been the same. But, being a news organization that relies on the latest — and when possible exclusive — images to tell a story, and having a reporter like Ware with his hard-won contacts, CNN aired portions of the video. Some critics have called it a “snuff film,” saying that it’s little more than a piece of enemy propaganda. Fine, but if these critics actually believe that this video — as well as countless others like it — are unavailable to terrorists via the Web, then they’re fooling themselves.