Sunday, November 05, 2006

Me So Brave

I've only taken a quick gander at this Michael Fumento piece, which identifies a hitherto overlooked motivation for the press making Iraq seem like a hopeless, violent, dangerous quagmire: The narrative of nonstop gloom and danger makes MSM reporters look heroic and brave for being there at all. Interesting thought: could it be that we'll lose this war due to morale problems on the homefront for the reason that a bunch of MSM reporters are mainly writing to impress their girlfriends and moms?


Ramadi, Iraq

Would you trust a Hurricane Katrina report datelined “direct from Detroit”? Or coverage of the World Trade Center attack from Chicago? Why then should we believe a Time Magazine investigation of the Haditha killings that was reported not from Haditha but from Baghdad? Or a Los Angeles Times article on a purported Fallujah-like attack on Ramadi reported by four journalists in Baghdad and one in Washington? Yet we do, essentially because we have no choice. A war in a country the size of California is essentially covered from a single city. Plug the name of Iraqi cities other than Baghdad into Google News and you’ll find that time and again the reporters are in Iraq’s capital, nowhere near the scene. Capt. David Gramling, public affairs officer for the unit I’m currently embedded with, puts it nicely: “I think it would be pretty hard to report on Baghdad from out here.” Welcome to the not-so-brave new world of Iraq war correspondence.

Vietnam was the first war to give us reporting in virtually real time. Iraq is the first to give us virtual reporting. That doesn’t necessarily make it biased against the war; it does make it biased against the truth.

During my three embeds in Iraq’s vicious Anbar Province, I’ve been mortared and sniped at, and have dodged machine-gun fire — all of which has given me a serious contempt for the rear-echelon reporters. When I appeared on the Al Franken Show in May, after my second embed, it was with former CNN Baghdad bureau chief Jane Arraf — who complained about the dangers of being shot down by a missile while landing in Baghdad, and the dangers of the airport road to the International Zone (IZ) . . . and how awful the Baghdad hotels were.

Descent into Hell?

Most rear-echelon reporters seem to have studied the same handbook, perhaps "The Dummies’ Guide to Faux Bravado". It usually begins with the horrific entry into Baghdad International Airport. Time’s Baghdad bureau chief, Aparisim Ghosh, in an August 2006 cover story, devotes five long paragraphs to the alleged horror of landing there.

It’s “the world’s scariest landing,” he insists, as if he were an expert on all the landings of all the planes at all the world’s airports and military airfields. It’s “a steep, corkscrewing plunge,” a “spiraling dive, straightening up just yards from the runway. If you’re looking out the window, it can feel as if the plane is in a free fall from which it can’t possibly pull out.” Writes Ghosh, “During one especially difficult landing in 2004, a retired American cop wouldn't stop screaming ‘Oh, God! Oh, God!’ I finally had to slap him on the face – on instructions from the flight attendant.”

The Associated Press gave us a whole article on the subject, titled “A hair-raising flight into Baghdad,” referring to “a stomach-churning series of tight, spiraling turns that pin passengers deep in their seats.”

I’ve flown into that airport three times now; each time was in a military C-130 Hercules cargo plane, and each landing was as smooth as the proverbial baby’s behind. But Ghosh is describing a descent in a civilian Fokker F-28 jet, on which admittedly I have never flown. (It’s $900 one-way for the short hop from Amman to Baghdad, and therefore the transportation of well-heeled media people.) So I asked a reporter friend who frequently covers combat in the Mideast and Africa, and has also frequently flown into Baghdad on those Fokkers. “The plane just banks heavily,” he said. “It’s not a big deal.” He requested anonymity, lest he incur the wrath of other journalists for spoiling their war stories.

Moreover, you can read similar corkscrew horror stories from reporters who have flown in on C-130s. “A C-130 deposits us onto the tarmac of Baghdad International Airport after a hair-raising corkscrew landing intended to elude incoming small arms and rocket fire,” a Greek freelance photojournalist boasted on his blog.

It’s not just experience that tells me that’s baloney. Look at a photo of a C-130; it’s a flying bathtub.

Chuck Yeager couldn’t throw it into a corkscrew and then pull out. I did ask a crewman on this last trip about deep-diving C-130s and he said that on a single flight (out of hundreds) the pilot had to plunge suddenly to avoid getting to close to another plane, but other than that “Landing in this plane is like landing in an airliner.” Except that unlike those Fokkers there are no flight attendants.

As to the overall dangers of flying into or out of Baghdad, one civilian cargo jet was hit after takeoff with a shoulder-launched missile, but landed safely; and one Australian C-130 was hit by small-arms fire, killing one passenger. That’s it. No reporter has been injured or killed flying into or out of Baghdad International.
The Highway of Death

Then there’s the dreaded “Highway of Death...”

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