Politics & Policy

Embedded Bias?

Why doesn't the Washington Post correct some simple facts?

Guilt by association. It is a common tool used to discredit those deemed a threat to the established order. Recently, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of such a tactic courtesy of a piece by Jonathan Finer and Douglas Struck in the Washington Post.

On the day after Christmas, the Washington Post featured an article titled “Bloggers, Money Now Weapons in Information War–U.S. Recruits Advocates to the Front, Pays Iraqi TV Stations for Coverage,” of which my recent embed in Iraq was the subject of scrutiny as a military-information operation. It is a fact-challenged article that manages to cast an unfair shadow on my reporting from Iraq.

The piece claims that I had retired from the military, when in fact it requires 20 years of service to retire. I served four years on active duty and two years in the National Guard. The authors report that I was credentialed by the American Enterprise Institute, when in fact this is impossible, as a think tank cannot provide media credentials–this must be done by a recognized news organization. I was credentialed by The Weekly Standard and the Canadian talk-radio show The World Tonight. And finally, contrary to the report, I was not in Iraq when the article was published. I had been home for nearly a week. Each of these items could have been easily confirmed by a simple inquiry.

The incorrect facts on their own can easily be discounted as trivial, but the suggestion that I was credentialed by the American Enterprise Institute certainly implies I was part of some kind of orchestrated right-wing ploy (there go those neocon war hawks again!). But couple the Post’s fake “facts” with the misrepresentation of the embed-credentialing process and the blending of my story with military-information operations, and the groundwork has been laid to label me as a tool of the military.

The misrepresentation of the embed process is perhaps the most egregious error made by an organization that routinely embeds reporters in Iraq. First, the Washington Post reports my invite to embed with the Marines in Iraq as some type of special or preferential treatment. In fact, reporters are often invited to embed.

I questioned Captain Jeffery Pool, a public-affairs officer for the 2nd Marine Division about this issue. He assured me reporters often are invited to embed with units. In fact, Mr. Finer was invited to embed with the Marines just prior to Operation Steel Curtain in November, an offer Mr. Finer declined. Under these circumstances, my invite is far from extraordinary or newsworthy.

Second, the article insinuates that I needed some kind of special “authorization” to embed. Again, I questioned Captain Pool on this issue. The public-affairs office does indeed have the power to approve or disapprove an embed, and every reporter that embedss goes through the same authorization process. When Mr. Finer embedded during the invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, he received authorization just as I did.

Again, this is a routine procedure, and I was given no special consideration. But you would not know any of this by reading the article.

It’s bad enough that the facts of the story are mangled and misrepresented, but Finer and Struck go even further to slight my character. The title and subheading of the article, “Bloggers, Money Now Weapons in Information War–U.S. Recruits Advocates to the Front, Pays Iraqi TV Stations for Coverage” clearly implies I am a tool of the military. And sandwiched between the mention of my embed and coverage from Iraq is a completely unrelated story on military-information operations, the Lincoln Group’s activities in paying for positive articles to be published in Iraqi publications, and the military funding Iraqi radio stations.

I have had a private conversation with Mr. Finer. He can dissemble to me about how there was no intention to equate my embed with a military-information operation, or the Lincoln Group’s dealings with the Iraqi media. But the fact is that intelligent people from varying political persuasions viewed the article this way.

I have been repeatedly asked what would motivate the Washington Post to write such an inaccurate and obviously antagonistic article. I can only speculate on the causes. I am a mere blogger, a citizen who is interested in the situation in Iraq and has focused on the subject for well over a year. My analysis and predictions have proved to be accurate over time, and this drew the attention of the Marines, who subsequently invited me to come to Iraq to witness the results of recent operations for myself, to go there for myself and report. And what I am most interested in right now is clearing the good name of my work.

In less than three weeks I organized a trip to Iraq and raised well over $33,000 as well as thousands in equipment and services. I had to be creative and sought out alternative media organizations to provide credentials, as I knew the established media would have little interest in sponsoring me. I took a leave of absence from my job, and traveled to Iraq.

I then did what many reporters in Iraq admitted to me they do not do: Embedded with frontline units to tell the stories of those serving. I saw, and reported great success, in the once-troubled areas of Western Iraq. I suppose that’s a threat to the mainstream media–a challenge to their traditional monopoly on war reporting. An upstart blogger and amateur has exceeded his pajama-clad place and done what much of the media in Iraq will not do.

One week ago, I published my initial response to the Washington Post article, which detailed the factual errors and logical fallacies of the piece. The Washington Post has yet to clarify their errors and misrepresentations.

Consider this one more reason to read alternatives to the Washington Post, where we report about the misleading little details, and let you decide.

Bill Roggio is an independent civilian military blogger. He served in the Army from 1991 to 1995, and now writes for his blog The Fourth Rail. He blogged from Iraq at threatswatch.org.

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