Yesterday, dozens of journalists gathered in the Kellogg Center for Journalism on the 15th floor of IAB for two panels organized by the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization that has defended journalists around the world for the last 30 years. Bwog’s intrepid lecturehopper Zach Kagan presents to you the first of a two-panel lecture. It examines how war reporting has changed over time. Stay tuned until tomorrow to read about the second panel, which considers the role of the internet and social media in revolutions around the world, now and in the future. The panels were also livetweeted and filmed; footage of them will eventually be posted on CPJ’s multimedia site.
The first panel, moderated by Dan Rather, consisted of four distinguished journalists: The Washington Post senior correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran, prominent Colombian journalist Maria Teresa Ronderos, award-winning photojournalist Michael Kramber, and Terry Anderson, an ex-marine and journalist who was kidnapped by Hezbollah militants in 1985 and held hostage for seven years. According to Josh Friedman, director of the CPJ, the Committee was formed partially in response to Anderson’s capture, with a goal to protect journalists from similar threats.
Rather opened discussion with a statement on the difficulties of war reporting: “There is nothing glorious about war. It may seem sophomoric to say that, but there’s a tendency for TV to flatten things out, and I know as someone who started in print, went to radio, and ended up on TV. The best thing it does is literally take you there on the proverbial magic carpet, but it loses its context. No one that has been on the battlefield considers themselves heroes, and I think while TV glorifies war, we shouldn’t forget that that is real mud and real blood.” By the end of this statement, Rather was overwhelmed with emotion. Terry Anderson shared Rather’s sentiments, arguing that the 24-hour news cycle doesn’t faithfully portray the battleground as well as we think. Ronderos has a unique perspective on this, having covered the guerilla wars within her own country and watched while people in the city commented on the War in Afghanistan they only saw on television, completely oblivious to the fighting that was going on within their own borders.
It used to be that journalists had some sort of immunity; they could travel around the country and speak with US military, civilians, and even members of the opposition. Anderson knows better than anyone that this is no longer possible in the Middle East. In recent years the US Military has adopted a policy of embedding, where journalists are escorted army units, but this results in a very American view on the war. Those who are hurt most by war are the civilians, and it is increasingly difficult to hear their real stories. It goes without saying that civilians will react differently to questions if their translator is also carrying a M16. “It’s not our war,” Anderson warned, “it’s their war and their land”. There are ways to report without embedding, however. Chandrasekaran convinced his editor to pay $200,000 for two armored Humvees (no easy feat!), and he disguised them as “Flower of Lebanon” taxi cabs, while Kramber and his team grew beards and dressed locally to blend in.
One point of conflict between journalists and the military is not so easily resolved. Kramber noted that the military has made it very difficult to publish pictures of American casualties, and Chandrasekaran confirmed that the requirements that must be met for approval are staggering: it must be OK’d by next of kin, the commanding office, his commanding officer, and can be appealed higher up on the chain of command. Anderson argued that to a certain degree the military wants to stifle journalists, because if people saw what was going on down on ground level they would never support it.
The panel finished with a discussion on how control over the news has shifted. It used to be that reporters edited their footage on location and sent it to the home office to be developed. Today, editors tell reporters exactly what they want, and reporters send back only the raw video, which is edited in house and quickly put on the air. Bwog asked Terry Anderson his opinion on the American media’s role in the ongoing protests and revolutions taking place in the Middle East. Anderson replied that the American publications were not doing any real reporting, preferring instead to rely on reports taken by bystanders and protesters. “Al-Jazeera,” he concluded, “kicked America’s butt.”
War Painting via Wikimedia Commons