March 13, 2007

Ernie is Dead

Mike Yon's latest dispatch, "Ernie is Dead" will be posted soon on

"Ernie" is Ernie Pyle, the highly respected war correspondent from Scripps-Howard newspapers who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1944. A collection of 40 of Pyle's columns have been collected by Indiana University's Journalism School here.

Pyle's most famous column, The Death of Captain Waskow, shows care, respect, and unvarnished humanity for the American soldier. It is doubtful that a similar column could be printed by today's media, which vacillates between treating our soldiers as unfeeling automatonic criminals and childlike victims. Today, many liberals would refer to someone like Pyle as a right wing propagandist. We just think of him as an American legend.

I'll link Yon's article in an update when it comes online.

Update: Yon's dispatch is now online at before transitioning over to the extended entry at Michael Yon Online.

True to the title, Michael makes some very interesting observations about combat journalism, and dings both the professional media and bloggers as warranted.

The rules, like the times and tents, have changed. Joe Galloway is retired. Journalists who in previous wars might have spent long tours with combat forces are rare. There have been a few, such as Lee Pitts who was here to cover a Tennessee National Guard deployment for a Tennessee paper. Or Rich Oppel of the New York Times, who has been here repeatedly for longer than typical journalists. John Burns needs no introduction. Likewise Dexter Filkins or Michael Ware. But journalists who roam the battlefield with the troops and write freely for long periods are completely gone. That doesn’t mean good journalists are gone. There are plenty of those, but mostly they are somewhere else, or they only come to Iraq for quick tours.

There is the new brand of journalists, the independents, of which I am a charter member. Many bloggers, along with their readers, are changing the face of journalism. Glenn Reynolds, from the immensely popular blog "Instapundit," which I check regularly, calls the new media "An Army of Davids," who are already changing the media by holding it more accountable. A number of very effective blog-storms have provided a needed check to balance the system. Don’t ever fake a photo: Bob at Confederate Yankee is watching.

Huge amounts of blog-energy go into attacks on mainstream media war coverage that might be better spent ignoring the irritant and offering alternative sources, in view of how critical any and all media coverage is to shaping public opinion which in turn determines the outcome of this war. These skirmishes between mainstream and alternative media produce only friendly fire casualties, and neither side can claim a monopoly on accuracy and objectivity. While the reliability and/or agendas of many mainstream media sources are questionable, the blogworld is also often too eager to anoint anyone who's not mainstream as a guru-of-something. If this were the art-world, it would be like anointing anyone with some skill at putting brush to canvas as the "new Rembrandt."

But the dirty secret known to only a few is that many of these "new Rembrandts" are clever forgeries. Some bloggers who advertise themselves as war correspondents with numerous "embeds" in the war, with the implication that they've spent more time on the ground than their mainstream war correspondent counterparts, mostly have spent very little time here, especially in comparison to those mainstream war correspondents.

This week, journalists are all around this area—ABC, Fox, New York Times, Associated Press, The Telegraph, Stars & Stripes (DoD publication) and others, all flagships—but where are the bloggers? Prohibitive costs, very high risks, and an increasingly shrinking market for the work probably contribute to the poor showing. Will the blog-world still maintain the attack on coverage from the mainstream media? Instead of looking for mistakes in some coverage, the common cause might be better served by well-informed bloggers searching all sources for the reports that get it right and driving readers to those.

As if often the case, Yon is direct and offers his honest opinion of the problems of both the media and blogosphere.

Perhaps Yon is right, in that bloggers such as myself should spend more energy directing readers to alternative sources of information, than merely exhaust our resources shooting down erroneous media accounts. I know that in my case, I spent quite a bit of time proving that Associated Press source "Jamil Hussein" was every bit as much a fake as were the 24 people that never died in AP's Hurriyah mosque attack coverage, but for all my efforts, it accomplished very little. We forced Jamil into silence as a named source, and perhaps causing certain AP executives and reporters some heartburn, but none of them were held accountable for what I still feel is a serious case of journalistic fraud. I still think the story was worth pursuing, but might my efforts have been better spent trying to track down alternative sources? It's tough to know, and may vary from story to story, but it is something I'll now consider as I move forward.

As for the "new Rembrandts," I was a participant in a series of heated email exchanges over the past few days (still on-going) involving Yon and a blogger Yon clearly considers a "clever forgery." I'd prefer not to get into the details as I respect both Yon and the work of the person he suspects, and hope that this is a situation where a lack of clear communications, not deception, is the culprit. Time will tell.

That said, the point Yon makes is correct: we must police our own, just as surely as we police the professional media, and hold both the mainstream media journalist and citizen-journalist (blogger) to similar standards of accuracy and credibility.

The focus of Yon's article is also quite true, in that we have very few combat journalists dedicated to long-term embeds with U.S. and Iraqi forces, and when we lack that perspective, we lose something in our war coverage. I can certainly understand it we simply don't have the journalists willing to commit to long-term embeds with our forces, and certainly understand that most bloggers, which tend to hold other full-time jobs, simply can't afford to self-finance the substantial cost of embedding. I hope however, that if journalists and bloggers are willing and able to embed, that they can get the financial backing of media organizations to embark on that most dangerous of journalistic missions.

Ernie Pyle is dead. I wonder if his successors are being given the chance they need to keep his legacy alive.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at March 13, 2007 08:27 AM

We need both activities. If you and your compatriots do not de-bunk falsehoods and inaccuracies, the majority of the people will not be aware of the failures. Michael Yon, Bill Day, and others are doing an admirable job of reporting what is really going on. You need to keep up with your excellent work,also.

Posted by: old_dawg at March 13, 2007 12:40 PM

My bad. I meant Chris Muir, not Bill Day. I salute all the bloggers who have embedded and occasionally support some of them financially.

If George O means that CY is an idiot and a liar, it must mean that George O is a lunatic.

Posted by: Old_dawg at March 13, 2007 06:51 PM

Yon's post is another great read, but I'm disturbed about the "clever forgery" mention. I'm not asking you to say who that is, so don't get me wrong. Since Yon has brought it up though, I think the sooner they themselves bring it into the open the better, and let the chips fall where they may.

Looking at it from just my perspective, I use embedded bloggers and milbloggers, along with "traditional" journalists and other sources, to help form my opinion about what is going on in Iraq. Is one of those bloggers a fake? Which one(s)? Does the post I'm now holding cite a soon to be discredited source?

Yon and the other party or parties need to get this out in the open, resolved or not, before it festers. Their readers deserve to know. Just my two cents.

Posted by: Dave E. at March 13, 2007 08:05 PM