Chapomatic

October 7, 2005

Welcome To The Back End Of The Blogosphere

Filed under: — Chap @ 11:38 pm

Journalist, now soldier, Carl Prine is now awaiting his turn in the sandbox. He was kind enough to return fire on my critique in the comments to a previous post. I’ll post my response here, since it deserves to go on the front instead of a comments string.

No response yet from Michael Yon, primarily because he’s incommunicado for a short period. His assistant wrote back, however, and was gracious enough to pass on the implied gauntlet throw on my part. One thing I did learn is that the fan mail for Yon is pretty impressive–he’s been getting cratefuls of snail mail, way more than one person can handle. I can easily wait for Yon to rest up and take his time on replying if he so desires.

I should also emphasize that these are people who put their money where their mouth is–they are in the arena, and it’s their blood and sweat in the sand of Iraq while I sit here in Omaha. It is not the critic who counts, and here I only offer critique. My interest was originally in probing what made an outstanding war correspondent, but the conversation has extended a little. I offer my comments as an informed consumer of media and a guy who is a student of war on his good days.

Now for a discussion of Prine’s return fire.

Hello. Odd to be here. I’m in uniform now, awaiting the ultimate call-up in October, so I’ll be respectful, sir. I’m not sure about the courtesies and customs for military decorum in a blog response, but rest assured I mean no disrespect to either you or your rank.

Welcome to the blogosphere, at least to its back porches and kitchens (start a blog and you’re in the parlor). I find that following the lead of the senior milblogger’s rules, tempered with LTC (and Rev.) Donald Sensing’s infamous Rule #6, and a little common sense, do pretty well for us. I’m a submariner by culture–we care mostly about whether one is competent or not, and I thank Prine for his service and will join him back in the sandbox as soon as I can figure a way to scam it. (It’s been too long since I sweated in the Gulf. Volunteering doesn’t apparently work when you have the experience that I do. Someone else thinks what I’m doing now is somehow more important, which I doubt).

First, it should be pointed out that my comments on Yon were direct answers to specific questions. It is odd to see them taken and spatchcocked into some kind of arbitrary tilt with Michael Yon. The main thrust of the questions I answered was concerning the role of the press in covering the military, and, most especially, the suggestion that the work Yon did was somehow “better” than what seasoned war correspondents turn out.

Kelly’s blog would have, I would bet, somewhere around the same order of magnitude of readership as the Post-Gazette, particularly when under an Instalanche. This readership is worldwide and focused. The ‘comment extraction’ method of highlighting something interesting is fairly common. At least one blogger (Bill Whittle) is paying rent with proceeds from a book he compiled from a blog that started when someone chained his comments together as one, rather spectacular, essay, and goaded him into writing. I’d had the idea of putting that post up for a while; although I’d never heard of Prine before, I’ve a high regard for what Yon has done, and figured Prine wasn’t just some crank but a guy who didn’t know he had stumbled into a somewhat more hostile audience that perhaps he was used to.

I have concerns with Prine’s critique which I’ll restate.

  1. What the established media considers itself, where it thinks its place is in the world, and how credible it thinks it is, is at odds with what many people (their customers) think. This disagreement is most noticeable in the blogosphere, although it can also be seen anecdotally, through falling readership and viewership, and through how seriously major media is taken compared to the past.
  2. We are in a war where the enemy both understands that our “national will” center of gravity is able to be attacked, and understands how to manipulate and leverage media for its own gain. The stance of the major media tends to have a cost and a benefit; in this case I would argue that the cost is not worth it.
  3. Blogs are a new medium. It is a different way of writing, and things that might make less sense in another medium work better on a blog.

The latter points I’ve addressed in other places, or can easily be found looking at other blogs. I’ll focus on the first one.

Prine references a RAND postmortem on the invasion embed program. I generally concur wih his observations, and wrote about similar issues from the warrior side here.

RAND is particularly concerned about protecting OPSEC. This is a curiousityfor the military because reporters historically and currently have been very, very good at making sure their copy doesn’t get U.S. servicemen killed — but military bloggers recently have racked up a fair number of OPSEC snafus that’s led to a new Army emphasis on cracking down.

Quite frankly, the bloggers didn’t seem to comprehend how their instantaneous stories and photographs might aid the enemy. Ironically, this is something seasoned war reporters understand quite well and high-ranking military officers don’t. It’s something I think we can teach them.

I don’t necessarily think teaching the senior officers is the primary need. We need the individuals to get it, to let the “strategic corporal” be such, to continue the pattern the Marines make famous as “every Marine is a public affairs officer”. Not everyone will get it–this is a skill that is not universal. What I see as the need for the senior officers to learn is to accept risk for the gain of the public vision of what’s going on (like John de Ville points out in his comment about Civil War letters being so important for local news).

We also need editors and journos to understand the cause and effect of their writing as well. Let me use Prine’s example of what he sees as flawed writing:

Rather, the point is that you simply DO NOT PUT IT INTO YOUR COPY IF YOU DO NOT PLAN ON EXPLORING IT FURTHER IN THAT STORY. What Yon has done is tell the enemy that “key” equipment failed while the Coalition tried to kill them. He’s also told the American reader — and taxpayer — that something apparently very important to our men in the field has not measured up. It’s unfair to the reader to raise that question and then not answer it. A seasoned reporter would never do it, and an editor would not allow it into a story. Unfortunately, Yon doesn’t have an editor.

In one sentence, he gave succor to terrorists AND denied the American public the information that’s so vital to a democracy. That’s tough to do in so few words. What Ernie Pyle would have done was simple: He would not have put it into that column, but he would have remembered it, and written about it later, when the men were out of danger but before Congress went home. That way, the problem could get fixed with some accountability.

Perhaps the Pyle comparisons are like the near-continual Rosa Parks comparisons we get for anyone protesting something for more than a week. Not many guys, like the late Michael Kelly, really are remembered like Pyle, so that becomes the shorthand. I would agree that the comparison is not correct (and understand why it rankles for a war correspondent) but have lived on USENET long enough to ignore hyperbole.

I understand Prine’s complaint about not putting something into copy–I’ve heard it in playwriting, where the adage is “don’t show a gun in the first act unless someone shoots it in the third”–but that’s not the point Yon is making, I think. We don’t necessarily care about having some grand inquisition on the failed piece of whatever and Congressional hearings on The Great Whatever Scandal. That “squeaking truth to POWER!!” is not the point. Yon is describing something that resonates with military people; “whatevers” always break down and we have to work around it. I as a reader could not care less about having some congressman opine about The Status Of Whatever. If it’s really important, do a grand expose’, but perhaps propelling the story along by explaining what triggered the mindset and situation of the guys is most effectively done the way Yon did it. Much reporting of this war has fit the frame Prine implies; Something Doesn’t Work So IT’S SCANDAL! In this way the normal friction and logistics struggle of war is not comprehended and forgotten. (See any discussions of logistics by guys like Jason van Steenwyk, and compare how van Steenwyk complains about armor to how the press complains about armor.)

The effect of the reportage we see is without memory. See the maps guys like Chester or the CT Blog or Bill Roggio or Belmont Club build, with time-based analysis. What does it mean when someone vaguely remembers that this isn’t the first “Zarqawi #2″ we’ve killed recently? What the heck is really going on? You can’t know by what you see in the paper, or see on TV. The story is of the moment, not the bigger picture. The effect is one where “we have always been at war with Oceania”–not exactly Speaking Truth, power or otherwise.

I’m not so much unhappy with Prine’s picking apart Yon’s writing. We could all be better writers. What did bother me was the next para:

This isn’t a question of “new media” or “old media.” It’s about your unique responsibility under the Constitution to serve as a Fourth Estate. The various print media have survived wire type, radio, TV and the Internet. Most interestingly, the so-called print MSM are a large part of the Internet information stream. I write my stories as much for an Internet audience as for the typical reader of pulp. I think this is pretty universal.

This is a response from someone who thinks entirely too highly of his profession. I’d like to have pointed out where the Constitution outlines those unique responsibilities for a Fourth Estate of Government; I don’t seem to remember where that article is. (The First Amendment does not establish a Fourth Estate, and does not create a guild of bonded, J-school newsmen.) A free and inquiring press is important, we have special protections, but at the same time they are not worthy of special deference as people or godlike awe. This difference in viewpoints is why the press gets outraged when the President says he doesn’t read newspapers, not realizing that declining readership may just mean others also came to that conclusion. (I could also mention why major media doesn’t have that much credibility, but I digress.) It’s also self-deluding–how is someone who works for General Electric or Disney speaking truth to power? (What does that phrase mean these days, anyway?) Who is the power? Whose truth? (Washing of hands to follow.) How about counting how much copy comes out of Afghanistan these days, compared to what comes out of the blogs (including the Afghani ones)?

Prine’s response also does not yet indicate an understanding that the Fourth Estate might just not be what he thinks it is. New media is different, but it is also part of media. Heck, even one of Yon’s photos showed up all over the front pages of the papers–with a story that galvanized people who read it. Sometimes they report things others don’t, and in great depth. Sometimes they report with knowledge no reporter has–like when a submarine gets in trouble and submariners with decades of experience explain to the layman what’s happening, following the story for a long time.

There’s a reason the reaction to Yon has been visceral. He’s filling a need people had, and that need is still there because he’s one of the only guys filling it. That’s why his work is better than some guy relying on Iraqi stringers to bring him something he can cobble into “Death Toll Rises As Morale Drops: Equipment Failure Overshadowed By Defeats”. Perhaps you newspaper guys might want to figure out why he’s so popular in this little corner of the world, and see if there are lessons to be learned from his methods. You can help him get an editor while you’re at it, sure–but some people really like his writing, too, and the blogosphere has a data-corrective effect you may have not noticed before…

36 Responses to “Welcome To The Back End Of The Blogosphere”

  1. Vigilis Says:

    Chap, you are of course correct about the Constitution’s reference to the press and I certainly agree with the main points you make, but as Katharine Graham (Washington Post Publisher, CEO) said, “Nothing illustrates better that the founding fathers sought to keep the forces of inquiry, the transmitters of information, the instruments of free debate as varied, numerous and independent as possible. Freedom of speech and of the press was the essential counterweight to government, the basic check against abuses of official power. And what the founders feared — and so sought to prevent — was not that government might be inconvenienced by the press, but that the press might be harassed and regulated by the government.”

    The intent to which Graham refers was, as you are already well aware, amplified by the Federalist Papers.

  2. chap Says:

    Absolutely. I think the tension this particular thread reveals is the one where the “varied, numerous and independent” press has just become more so. The old guild doesn’t like the incursion…

  3. Carol Says:

    For a long time, Michael Yon was writing as if dashing off a letter to a friend. That contrasts beautifully with Carl Prine who’s way too boring to bookmark. Contrasts with ‘old media’ too, which I don’t trust one bit now. How many zillions of times has the ‘blogosphere’ pointed out the flaws and lies in a tv show or newspaper article. With all their editors and time for fact checking – ha! What a joke on us, the lowly consumers.

    Steven Pressfield says, in “The War of Art” – “The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.”

    No one else writes about the Iraq war the way Michael Yon does. I don’t understand why it’s hard to comprehend the propaganda value and the gains in intelligence, but I don’t care enough about this Prine guy to go into it.

  4. badbob Says:

    Mr. Chapo- I came over here from a link you had at NeptunusLex. Thanks.

    All of the entries have been spot on as to the “value” of Mr. Yon’s dispatches. As a retired dumb ol’brownshoe I can’t add much. Subsunk (where, when?) and y’alls comments were eloquent.

    Mr. Prine does all of us a service by writing his critique of Mr. Yon and then his reclama. It is not professional jealousy, rather it is a defense of the status quo. In this case the status quo is journalistic standards of excellence in reporting and style, IE “process”. To provide the ultimate cover he adds “I believe foremost in the primacy of the written word”. We’ve all heard the above a thousand times but I think we are all drawn to Mr. Yon’s work because it is truthful and the value of that in these times is greater than any process imperfections.

    Regarding “Context” his “Yon has no understanding of the larger aspect of the war….”. This really sort of irritates me because it is probably true and that is why Mr. Yon stays away from it, except to report that the troops are motivated for the mission, the leadership is extremely competent and we are incrementally winning.What endears Yon to us is that we know he will tell the truth if the worm turns… Yes he is an SF guy first- “journalist” second. Writing about the operational level of war and intertwining that in reportage just because you have read Sun Tzu or Clauswitz, turns me off as a former miltary man…unless of course, you have actually been in operational command. Thankfully, Yon doesn’t do that, but many in the MSM do…

    In summary, I thank Mr. Prine for his candidness but I will continue to read Mr. Yon’s work for the simple reason I value it.

    Excellent thread.

    B2

  5. M. Jordan Says:

    If the Fourth Estate were in fact performing its mission as the watchdog of government, the blogosphere wouldn’t be necessary. Its the MSM’s failure to honestly and accurately scrutinize the government that’s allowed blogs and non-traditional news sources to flourish.

    The Fourth Estate has been consumed by its delusions of grandeur to the point where it sees no difference between treason and neutrality, no difference between being objective and aiding the enemy. MSM writers get their “street cred” by slamming the government and bashing the military as a way to show independence, without regard to truth or facts. (Just watch a White House press conference.) Their logic takes them to a point where loyalty and citizenship to their country plays no role in their professional judgement. To them, this is integrity — and the “highest journalistic aspiration”. To the average proud American tax-paying voter, this is irrational and appalling.

    The MSM’s failing numbers speak for itself. The everyday news consumer believes a rational and intelligent person should be able to figure out how to “tell truth to power” without negatively distorting stories about his country and government, and spinning stories against its leaders in wartime. The blogs do it all the time – why can’t the “pro’s”? There’s alot of criticism of the gov/mil/leaders in milblogs, except its usually substantive, and done in the context of loyalty.

    In fact, I’m troubled by the fact that a uniformed reporter holds these views.

    While known MSM deceptions are too numerous to count, we can assume there are vast other past mistakes and misdeeds committed by them that were never found out. Finally, I think Yon comes very close to the bar set by Pyle, and he’s in no way finished. An experienced war reporter would never quibble with lack of writerly finesse knowing the conditions under which the Yons of the world work.

  6. Subsunk Says:

    Mr. Jordan,

    I agree with what you wrote. In Spades. Thanks.

    Subsunk

  7. Carl Says:

    Well, if I was such a stuffed shirt defender of the so-called “MSM,” I’d hardly imagine I’d show up in a blog to explain what I meant. I really believe in engaging readers everywhere, not to prop up my profession, print journalism or my reading of the Federalist Papers (I prefer Hamilton), but because it’s important for reporters to be accountable for what they write or say.

    Let me see if I can give my perspective on some of this.

    “What the established media considers itself, where it thinks its place is in the world, and how credible it thinks it is, is at odds with what many people (their customers) think.”

    I believe blogs are important. I’m a big fan of two of them — Jack Kelly’s place and Blackfive — because they offer a learned approach to understanding the military. Trust me, I’m no fan of how many reporters cover the military. The problem with this coverage, however, isn’t motivated from some “agenda,” conservative or liberal, but rather ignorance.

    In Pyle’s day, most reporters had served in the military. Because of universal (white) conscription and the dominance of a white, male demographic over print and radio media, it was assumed that if you were a war correspondent from 1941 – 1975, you most probably did a stint in the Army or Navy. Pyle was a Navy vet from WWI, for example. Hemingway was an ambulance driver in the Great War, too.

    You don’t necessarily have to be a vet to be an outstanding war correspondent, but it helps you understand the byzantine world of the military. This has been lost in the media just as it has been lost in the civilian world as a whole. You find military service to be the exception, not the norm, for any body of workers in any industry.

    As for the fracturing of the various media, this has been accelerating for some time. Readership in the print medium peaked in the late 1980s. Although most news consumers continue to get their information from a variety of sources, ironically it’s the print outlets that continue to set the public debate, as numerous polls from Pew, Poynter and other nonprofits have told us over the last few years.

    “The MSM’s failing numbers speak for itself. ”

    Ahhh, but if they weren’t so damned profitable! Publicly traded media companies regularly report double-digit profit margins. Numbers are numbers, and certainly readership and viewership have fragmented. But the NY Times still makes a huge amount of money and controls a good portion of the public debate, whether bloggers like it or not.

    While the nascent blogging industry is interesting, it has yet to replace, or even seriously dent, the popularity of print. The reasons are manifold, but the most salient one is simple: Bloggers still rely on the so-called “MSM” for the bulk of what they write about.

    That’s why Yon and Kevin Sites (who was recently hired to do his own blog on Yahoo) are so interesting. They are supposed to be embodiments of a new sort of partisan reporting, very personal in its nature, without many of the strictures from the traditional media for truth, clarity or context.

    While many point to the popularity of Yon, I guess my beef is that we don’t know if he’s really all that important to the public debate. He’s not speaking to a general audience, most of whom would reject his work because it’s almost unreadable. He’s talking to people who either are in the military or have been or believe the press is “unfair” to DoD, or whatever. It’s a pretty small slice of the readership, and he makes no money, which is generally a pretty good insight into how popular something is or isn’t in America.

    As I’ve told bloggers, if you want to become important to the national debate, then do something more than an op-ed. Yon is trying to do that. I don’t think he does it very well, but it’s a question of taste. Some like him, some don’t. They don’t like him enough to buy his product.

    “The First Amendment does not establish a Fourth Estate, and does not create a guild of bonded, J-school newsmen.”

    I agree completely. But, like anything else, if you want to do it well you have to learn somewhere. One reason Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus have such popular blogs is because they apprenticed as newsmen, understand how to write and process facts, and know where to go for gossip.

    “like John de Ville points out in his comment about Civil War letters being so important for local news). ”

    I’ve written about this on Kelly’s blogs and in print, largely because I love to read these letters (which is how we got the term “correspondent” to begin with). Much of the Civil War was reported by local militia commanders who penned letters home to the newspapers which, largely, were still affiliated with political parties or small-town bigwigs. In most newspapers in what was then a predominately small-town, agrarian Republic, wire reports only supplemented the “news” the boys in the front posted home.

    Blogging, then, is really kind of a return to a simpler day.

    This is stupid:

    “envy-driven criticism”

    I have NO envy for Yon. Had I demonstrated his skills, I’d be fired as an incompetent. I care about war correspondence no matter what the medium, and he’s a far cry from even the most rudimentary hack. He’s learning as he goes, but the problem is that he doesn’t have anyone to show him how to do it better, how to organize his prose and turn it into a real product a general audience would want to consume.

    I’m not sure that’s an indictment of the blogosphere, but it would help if he had an editor or at least a mentor to show him the ropes.

    “No one else writes about the Iraq war the way Michael Yon does.”

    Yes, but it’s not very well written. If you like that sort of thing, then so be it. But don’t make the rest of us swallow it like cod liver oil.

    “Yes he is an SF guy first- ‘journalist’ second.”

    And perhaps that’s the problem. You can’t be both. A former career in the military can illuminate your coverage of an event, but once you decide to become a reporter, that’s your job. It’s unfair to your readers to fail to become good at the latter because you want to fall back on the former. Being a reporter is a real skill. It takes time, effort and intelligence to become a good one. The problem is that Yon is learning as he goes, just as any cub reporter does.

    Some of it is interesting, and I’m sure a lot of so-called “MSM” outlets would like to put snippets of what he writes into their copy, but as a whole it needs a lot of help to reach a general audience. If he doesn’t want to reach that audience and, instead, to “write for his sources” as reporters say, then OK. Go ahead. It’s a free country.

    “I don’t necessarily think teaching the senior officers is the primary need. ”

    Actually, that’s exactly the people the military leadership needs to reach. I have spent some time discussing this with senior officers and civilian policymakers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The IDF is interesting because they conduct Operations Other than War daily in a media-saturated urban battlescape. They assume much of the world press is going to be decidedly against them for a number of reasons, and yet the IDF has a very open policy with the various media.

    IDF battalions employ highly-trained, very bright Public Affairs Officers during the planning, execution and follow-up on every mission. IDF assumes that the “information war” is just as important as the bullets and beans. Why? Because a history of urban warfare against irregular forces has taught them that it is crucial to surviving as a democratic nation and a military institution.

    PAOs in the IDF are some of the best and brightest. Multi-lingual, highly educated and as adept with a rifle as they are with a pen, they advance to the upper echelons of the Israeli military. Contrast this with the milieu in American war planning.

    The highest levels of the U.S. military couldn’t care less about reporters. They don’t understand how they can win a battle yet lose the war because of bad press or, more appropriately, publicity that relies on sources that competed better than the military at winning the battle of the metaphors.

    Let me explain a bitter reality: Reporters do not “need” the U.S. military in Iraq to get out their stories. Because of a revolution in telecommunications, a journalist can send images, words and dialogue globally within seconds, powered by the sun or cheap batteries, without any interference from Coalition jammers.

    During the invasion, my battalion commander actually enjoyed reading the data flow on my laptop, powered by the sun, channeling from a satellite. He was amazed that my electronics were superior to the military’s, that I could communicate instaneously with sources in northern Iraq, Kuwait, Paris and New York, giving him information he didn’t get from the G-2.

    The vast majority of war correspondents worldwide are not American. It’s a highly competitive world wherein talent, courage and pluck make your career for you. As a stringer covering Africa and Asia, my clients were a Who’s Who of major newspapers, magazines and radio syndicates. I had no allegience to any of the forces I covered, nor a stake in the political opinions of those I sent my words and photos.

    Why do you think it’s any different in Iraq? The (mostly) men on the ground are NOT American. They have no loyalty to you, nor should they. They are professionals who have experienced far more combat than the Americans AND Iraqis they follow (my passport alone is enough to get me strip-searched every time I get on a plane, ditto theirs).

    People seem to think they should display some sort of pro-American bias. Why? They’re not American! Most of the people paying their bills are NOT American!

    Domestic coverage, especially from embedded reporters, seems to me to have been pretty positive. If that’s the information war the military wants to win, by and large they have won it. If they want to curry favor in the rest of the world, they lost that battle long ago, and they’re not sophisticated enough to catch up, unlike the Israelis.

    “This really sort of irritates me because it is probably true and that is why Mr. Yon stays away from it, except to report that the troops are motivated for the mission, the leadership is extremely competent and we are incrementally winning.”

    Well, I think Yon is missing context in a lot of places, not just because he has no clue about what Iraqis think or feel. He doesn’t speak the languages or even show much of an interest in leaving his embed slot to talk to them in town. Maybe it’s not safe enough to do so. We don’t know. He hasn’t told us.

    On another level, however, he’s also missing context. He’s covering a freakin’ Stryker Brigade. Last time I checked, the Stryker was one of the most controversial weapons systems to ever grace the DoD procurement schedule. Second probably only to the beret, the Stryker has been, to put it mildly, a source of some debate within the ranks of the military.

    And yet I have not seen Yon even bring this up in his work. That’s kind of amazing, really, unless he’s agreed not to talk about it, in which case he should not be a journalist. The role of the Stryker in combat, its effectiveness, the cost to taxpayers, yada yada yada, might be interesting! Mention it to a Bradley, LAV or tank crew and see what they say!

    “Perhaps you newspaper guys might want to figure out why he’s so popular in this little corner of the world, and see if there are lessons to be learned from his methods. ”

    Not my job. But there’s a great organization called Military Reporters & Editors (MRE, get it?). I’m a member. So is Jack Kelly.

    You can find it at http://www.militaryreporters.org/

    It’s kind of a meeting place for hundreds of reporters who specialize in covering the military and the services themselves. We just held a conference. Our awards are named after Joe Galloway.

    I’m sure Yon would be welcomed into the circle. Guys who are shot at a lot aren’t big on ceremony.

  8. badbob Says:

    I said- “Yes he is an SF guy first- ‘journalist’ second.”

    Mr. Prine said- “And perhaps that’s the problem. You can’t be both. A former career in the military can illuminate your coverage of an event, but once you decide to become a reporter, that’s your job. It’s unfair to your readers to fail to become good at the latter because you want to fall back on the former. Being a reporter is a real skill. It takes time, effort and intelligence to become a good one. The problem is that Yon is learning as he goes, just as any cub reporter does.”

    What makes him a valuable sorce of info Mr. Prine is that he hasn’t forgotten his ‘roots’ and that hi-energy personality that makes an SF comes through regardless of his cub reporter moniker you lable him with. I’m sur it does take skill to be a reporter as it does to be a Navy pilot but to be a warrior is an avocation. It’s something you never lose. I hope Mr. Yon doesn’t and he plods on. Who knows, he may end up MSM or he may morph into something else- SF bubbba’s are adaptable.

    What you don’t quite grasp, IMHO is that he is unique and breaking new ground. You are a member of the status quo reportage. Nothing wrong with that but don’t underestimate “Copernicus” Yon!

    Thanks for sharing your insights and critique. I will look for your work.

    B2

  9. Jbrookins Says:

    The idea the Michael Yon is unreadable is funny. I certainly understand everything he’s written and like it. I realize I’m just a consumer and not the prime target of main stream journalist. Their audience appears to be themselves more than any others. Mr. Prine (I hadn’t heard of him before this, but that doesn’t mean much) still comes across as an elitist defending the journalist crowd whose large numbers produce very few standouts. I wouldn’t make much of this. I think Michael will do fine.

  10. MD Says:

    Mr. Prine,

    The fact that Mr. Yon is ‘learning as he goes’ is what makes his prose so intriguing. To your mind it’s not very good writing, but I think it has a kind of immediacy and energy that is immensely engaging. I have been riveted by many of his ‘dispatches’ in a way I’ve not been, frankly, by many recent news articles. Reading a blog isn’t like reading the New York Times or Balzac, nor should it be, which, I suppose, is one of your points. I don’t read Yon because I think he provides the truth and others in the MSM don’t. I read his blog because there is something very powerful about, “I was there and I saw.” Of course you must know that or you would not be a journalist! But diarists have a purpose too, and the best milbloggers, those I readily turn to, are diarists first and foremost. The tiny details, told in a completely personal voice, are utterly compelling. Why is Pepys Diary so popular? Why do we care what this man wore or ate on such and such a date all those years ago? But we do seem to care. One of your criticisms of his writing is that the focus is too small or narrow and doesn’t give a panoramic focus to the events of the Iraq War. Fine, but the focus of Anne Frank’s diary was similary small, and who would say that the truth wasn’t crystallized by that small world?

    So, I guess, my interest in milblogs tends to the ‘literary’ rather than the journalistic, and on that note, I’ll bow out of the conversation. Best of luck to you. I’ll keep an eye out for some of the things you’ve written.

  11. MD Says:

    Sorry about the mispellings – that’s what you get when you have a blogger and not a journalist commenting :)

  12. JarheadDad Says:

    Hey Carl. Well, here we go again huh? I disagreed vehemently on the ethical debate surrounding Sites and now I totally disagree with you on Yon. Hmmmm! Seems to be a trend here! ;-)

    I dubbed Michael Yon “the reincarnation of Ernie Pyle”. I know how much that chaps your shorts but frankly it is the truth. Not for some reasons you like to point out such as sentence structure, turning a phrase, seeking “proper” skills in story diagramming, etc., etc., etc.! No, the plain truth of the matter is Michael captures the essence of the warfighter in almost the exact same way that Pyle did way back when. It is undeniable in his writing. It is undeniable in the way he comes across. It is undeniable period!

    Of course he doesn’t have the anal rententive “polish” that you would have so. And he doesn’t have the thousands of stamps on his passport. What he does have is raw courage and he has CHOSEN SIDES! Just EXACTLY as Ernie Pyle did! I could just imagine the response you would get from Pyle if you tried to rail about “neutrality” and “journalistic ethics”. Heh! What a storyline that would be! There are no ethical problems for those that choose sides. I know that is hard for you to understand but it is the same old tired puppy we’ve been batting around forever.

    You say the foreign journalists do not care about our “side”. Same as you when on assignment to Africa, et al. Fair enough. But when one comes along that WE KNOW is on our side you try to take him apart by picking his writing apart and educating us on the grander scheme of things in the world of journalism. Well, I call bullshit! There are many of us that have been places and done things. Yes cultures are drastically different and the world intel market has a dim view of Americans as a whole. Seen it – don’t give a rat’s ass. Aw, that typical arrogant American huh? Don’t we just suck? Have I made my point? While you say the foreign press doesn’t need our military for bumpkus, we also control the entry and access. Our military is the ONLY thing that has kept the Iraqi Government from giving all the media the boot. Is the foreign media anti-American? Is the world? Uh, that’s a big duh! Now ask me if I care! Yon writes for Amurican Knuckledraggers like me and I have little problem with clarity. His, mine, or the world’s.

    World market share is probaly not much on the mind of Michael Yon. He’s more interested in telling the story of the average Grunt in the field. As a matter of fact I believe he’s stated his shortcomings on the whole “accredited” writing front on numerous occasions. Unlike you, the foreign press, the elite American MSM, or the terrorist propaganders of Al Jezeera, Michael writes for us. You know, the great unwashed. The red-staters. The ignorant masses that actually supply the men and women in uniform. Therein lies the trump to your whole argument – elitism. Michael doesn’t have it – and we appreciate him for it!

    Believe me when I tell you that I understand your points. The problem is you are witnessing a phenomenon in Michael Yon. He actually CARES about the men and women he writes about. He actually CHOSE a side. And we LOVE him for it! No, there’s no “educated” reason for this. It simply is. You decry he makes no money well I wouldn’t count on that either. Are you so sure? Funny thing about grassroots heroes, they tend to do better than you think!

    There is no harm in being American and a journalist. I believe Ms. Hess has been grappling with that very thing. It is hard not to understand why an Ernie Pyle was on the American side when you spend time with the Grunts doing the fighting. It is natural. And if it is perceived as you choosing our side then it can also be profitable. Patriotic Americans will donate to someone who is the epitome of themselves. Make no mistake about that! As far as general population goes? Who knows? Time will tell I guess!

    BTW, good luck back in uniform. While we disagree, on a constant basis, I have always respected your opinion. I truly understand the dilemma you face. But now YOU have chosen sides and not only do I thank you for that but I celebrate your service as well!

    God Speed!

  13. Carol Says:

    Hey Carl,

    Yeah, Hamilton’s not bad but he came long after John Adams had given up a successful and lucrative career as a lawyer to work hard for a political ideal. Adams was on the British hit list while negotiating with them during the revolution. In fact, everyone who signed the Declaration of Independence believed they could be signing their own death warrant. Huge sigh of relief after Saratoga, I suspect.

    People staked their lives for our freedom today, it’s very humbling.

    I tried to read your extensive comment up there but all I could think was “what a patronising elitist”. The sheep, like me, who are too stupid to make valid judgements about what we’re reading must disgust you.

    Don’t worry about what “polls” are reporting, by the way, most of the methodology is flawed, as any lowly market researcher could explain to you.

    But you must know the state advertising is in at the moment. The fall negotiations over air time costs? P&G holding back an incredible portion of their advertising budget until they can assess the best place to advertise? It’s discussed everywhere I hang out.

    There are myriad reports on the unprofitability of print media. A lot of newspapers are supported by the companies in the groups that they belong to. This is not a secret.

    Blogging itself may last or it may not. What it represents is a sea change in consumption. First it’s the early adopters and opinion formers, next it’s the common man. No longer in the dark, able to seek out information from other channels, a revolution in fact.

    Whether a blogger makes money or not is not the issue. Every business person consults colleagues for advice every day – what supplier to use, who seems a good idea to hire, who not to have a drink with. Standard business practice . Opinions are given for free.

    Authentic and credible sources of information are what’s desired. Old media no longer offers this. Blogs currently supply it.

    I’m sorry for the sharp tone, but you have really amazed me. Good night and good luck.

  14. mikeyslaw Says:

    I have, in the past, exchanged e-mail with Yon. I suspect that he intends to write a book, if he isn’t already, about his experiences in Iraq. I also suspect, that if the book is published, an editor will have performed at least a cursory review of his writing. When the book is published, we will see if anyone is paying for his work. I know beyond any doubt that he will sell at least one copy.

    Until then, I will just have to fumble my poor dumbass way through his dispatches without the help of a polished pro like Prine.

    In Texas, we have an old saying: “He’s all hat and no cattle.” Yon is definitely running some beef on his ranch.

    P.S.

    Last I heard, the NYT was laying off 400 or so poor souls, and selling subscriptions for 49.95 in order to read Maureen Dowd’s latest bulls**t. The piles of money may be shrinking.

  15. Chapomatic » The Ethics In America Incident Says:

    [...] I’ve accidentally wandered into some media criticism, so perhaps I should outline one source of why I feel differently about the storied Fourth Estate than others who do journalism for a living. [...]

  16. Carl Says:

    “I tried to read your extensive comment up there but all I could think was ‘what a patronising elitist.’ The sheep, like me, who are too stupid to make valid judgements about what we’re reading must disgust you. ”

    What a sad way to read what someone writes. I returned to give perspective from a working war correspondent and investigative reporter who also served a good portion of his adult life in the USMC, and I find such strawman retorts. Who said you were a “sheep?” Who said you were “too stupid to make valid judgements?”

    It wasn’t me. I said (1) whether one like or disliked Yon’s writing was, first, a question of taste, which is highly subjective and; (2) from a more objective measure, money, he doesn’t seem to be in much demand in the popular marketplace of ideas. People like him, but they haven’t been asked to pay for him, just donate.

    Had he tried to peddle this stuff in the so-called “MSM” he would be penniless. That’s not because of any “message,” it’s because a lot of it is repetitive, boring and ridden with cliches and half-truths, without any particular interest in the Iraqi people, the controversy tailing the very brigade that he ‘s following (a controversy within the military and Congress, mind you, not among the general public) or any concern for drawing it into the context of the WoT.

    “There are myriad reports on the unprofitability of print media. ”

    Too bad they don’t seem to show up in public disclosure forms from the SEC. Most major print companies — and I assume mine would fall into this line — report double digit profit margins. For most industries, this would be fat times indeed!

    Quite frankly, the only company I know that’s going through particularly hard times is Jack Kelly’s Post-Gazette. We’re doing fine, otherwise I couldn’t afford a $10,000 per month phone bill in Iraq.

    What is interesting about the recent polls on journalism is that, by and large, people like their hometown news. They like the local paper and the local TV and radio stations. When they complain about the “media,” they seem to be attacking the same bogeyman as “government” or “Congress” or “lawyers.”

    They like their Congressional reps and their lawyers, they just hate everyone else’s.

    For all the talk about how horrible the network newscasts are, they have a market penetration that, albeit falling slowly, is still far, far more than CNN, MNSBC or Fox, supposedly the cable stations destined to kill them off.

    The truth is that people tend to really like the embedded reporters from their own newspapers, who tend to cover local units. A lot of people, however, just don’t like some of the national newscasts. I have written in other places about how often the reason we have seen such uneven broadcasting about Iraq is because of faults within the military, itself, especially DoD’s lack of structure for a meaningful public affairs section.

    But that’s for a different audience.

    “Authentic and credible sources of information are what’s desired. Old media no longer offers this. Blogs currently supply it.”

    I must be missing those blogs! Most blogs I’ve seen cherrypick the stories they like from the “old media,” then bloviate something about how the “MSM” aren’t reporting it (which it tautologically impossible, but there you have it). Or they find a story from one media outlet and trash it. Or they take some news from one source and extrapolate from it the seeds of their own op-ed on the subject.

    The problem, it seems to me, is that the various media are so fragmented, one doesn’t find a unified “source” for a story. There are a lot of great reporters doing much better work than Yon in Iraq, but you wouldn’t know it because maybe you don’t regularly read the LAT, Times of London, Knight Ridder, Christian Science Monitor, NY Times or the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette or Tribune-Review.

    I’ve written war reports for three of those outlets, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that because you don’t “follow” a byline.

    Jarhead Dad, for those of you who don’t know, spars with me all the time. I doubt he would label me an “elitist,” but one never knows. I’m still flummoxed that a lot of blogs are trashing Joe “Bronze Star” Galloway, without apparently any regard for what he did in Vietnam. Oh well.

    Jarhead is still sore that I had the uncomfortable job of defending in print both Sites AND the Marine who shot the guy in the mosque during the Battle of Fallujah. My task was to explain the perspectives of both parties. Ironically, my perspective is shared by many in the Pentagon leadership, but this doesn’t often trickle down to the field commands. I’m not sure we can reach a middle ground here, but I’ve tried.

    “No, the plain truth of the matter is Michael captures the essence of the warfighter in almost the exact same way that Pyle did way back when. It is undeniable in his writing. It is undeniable in the way he comes across. It is undeniable period!”

    Jarhead, I think you hit on something here. I don’t think a lot of people really, really love Yon’s writing. I think what they love is his heartfelt sentiment for the troops. This is undeniable, I agree.

    What I’m suggesting, however, is it’s not enough to really, really like the troops. Hell, I am a trooper, and I don’t want some crappy hagiographic junk written about me. Pyle sure as hell didn’t do it. He was a brutal realist, and he was quite controversial at the time for taking on the “rear echelon” officers, Army civilian leadership and pork barrel politicans of his day. I’ve written previously about this.

    While I’d much rather have people actually READ PYLE before they casually assign his title to bloggers, I understand the compulsion people feel to reward Yon for having the right sentiments, if not always the best execution. I was talking to a big fan of Yon’s the other day and that was his perspective — there’s so much bad and boring stuff, but there’s a lot of good nuggets in there, too, if you weed through it, and a certain sense of “being there.”

    I agree. There is some good stuff there. But, for me (again, that taste issue), there’s too much crap to muck around. Yon’s sentiment doesn’t spare that for me, but if it does for you, fine. You read through it.

    “What he does have is raw courage and he has CHOSEN SIDES!”

    So, more importantly, do the troops he covers. They chose sides and have courage most people could never muster. I think they deserve a reporter who can tell that story in as powerful a way as possible. Joe Galloway of Knight-Ridder or Dexter Filkins of the NY Times, I think, are outstanding examples of what every battalion deserves, but so rarely gets. Yon’s not in their company, yet.

    “While you say the foreign press doesn’t need our military for bumpkus, we also control the entry and access. Our military is the ONLY thing that has kept the Iraqi Government from giving all the media the boot. ”

    Actually, the military doesn’t control access and egress from Iraq. That’s one of the reasons for the continuing insurgency. If you can’t keep Al Qaeda in Iraq out of Anbar, I’m not sure you’re going to deport the ITV or BBC crew. The Iraqi Provisional Government famously booted Doha’s TV network from the country. Which means that now you can get live feeds from Iraq carried by Al Jazeera all the time.

    No effect.

    “if it is perceived as you choosing our side then it can also be profitable.”

    But in Yon’s case it doesn’t seem to be very profitable. Maybe he can cash in on a book. Who knows? So far, the money side of it doesn’t seem to be working out very well.

  17. JarheadDad Says:

    http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/tribune-review/trib/mostread/s_382294.html

    That’s on the same page as your story Carl. ;-)

    I read your stuff. I have for quite awhile. Galloway I like, Filkins not so much. Galloway is a hardass. Anyone that has been paying attention can’t help but realize the sheer experience the guy has. He passes that on through his writing style as well. BUT!!! he does not make the connection of a Michael Yon. Why is that? Galloway is a war correspondent of heroic proportions and Yon is a newcomer upstart. What’s the difference?

    Read that article I posted and it will give you some clue. We, the average American and news buying public, do not trust the MSM. We’ve been lied to, had facts twisted at every turn, watched some asshat’s agenda being shoved down our throats on the back of our loved ones, and had propaganda snuff films thrown open to further endanger our folks due to “journalistical ethics and standards” a la Sites. And you wonder? It’s really not hard to figure out. The reporting on the WoT is definitely one sided and shown through a political agenda. Now try and deny that! If you do it will be totally disengenuous and you know it.

    There are a myriad of reasons for this. You pegged the main one yourself; ignorance. The newsrooms of America do not have the expertise to even cover the military at war. Hell, it took them two friggin’ years to differentiate between soldiers and Marines. And half of them still don’t capitalize the M in Marine! heh! Now picture yourself sitting at home in April 04. You have some embed reporter tailing a young Marine and causing all sorts of aggravation while he’s trying to bust a move in Fallujah. Reports are getting out straightline of the sheer devastion, death, and destruction caused by an aroused Marine Regiment on the attack. Next thing you know there is a pullback. Marine deaths left to be avenged. Civilian leaders waxing poetic and wanting the “peace process” to work. Due to those same images perhaps? Civvie leaders not understanding the sheer destructive force of even a Marine Battalion fully engaged until seen on the television? As a parent you sit and watch the television and cannot understand the sheer stupidity of the edited version of what you are seeing. And you still want to profess the “professionalism” of the job of these war correspondents? Uh, OK. Go ahead. Make my day!

    Then in November we get Sites? Defend ’til your heart’s content. It will not make one single bit of difference. Therein lies your problem trying to sell your opinion of a Michael Yon. He IS on OUR side. He is NOT selling “neutrality” or “ethics and standards”. He is FOR us. It seriously comes across in his writing. Just the fact that there are millions of Americans looking for a Michael Yon should give you pause. We would not be on the internet at all if we trusted the MSM to give us the true story. Our young men and women return home and read this garbage that the elite media tries to pass as reporting and show us where every lie and distortion is. Line by line. Article by article. Newsreel by newsreel. This is not our father’s media and we have choices now.

    You are correct in your comparison of our lack of understanding compared to the Israelis. We’ve had this discussion before. Much as you deride the Old Guard we do the same with your elite media Old Guard. Difference being that the new blood moving into the military is making changes and getting things done whereas your media is stuck in it’s elitist asshole mode and will remain there until it’s demise. In the editorial boards of every newsroom in this country there is a lockstep being performed when it comes to reporting on this military and our troops. They do not even have the intelligence to hire the people they need to even get the technical aspects correct. Name a dozen editors that have a military background.

    I’ve spoken with quite a few reporters and embeds over the past four years. They each end up making the same complaint in varying degrees. The stories they write are not what is printed. The get editorialized and cut to the point sometimes that they are almost unrecognizable from the original that was filed. Bad boys, bad boys, whacha’ gonna’ do? Like it matters, right? Then you get the “instant” video reports like Sites’. Now compare what he did to Pyle and what he would’ve done. Half of the brilliance of Pyle was what he DIDN’T write or expose. Like Sites said, “It was his DUTY”. Again, and it’s old rehash, that’s one hellova’ sense of duty!

    You elitist? Don’t make me laugh. You are as hardcore as they come and that is why I respect your opinion. It’s also why I read your stuff. And Galloway’s. And this young Pamela Hess. Y’all get it. But your writing comes across as supporting the elite. It’s the medium and it does come across that way. Yeah, there’s a major upheaval from the dollar spending public on this one. I wonder how long it will be before the print media cannot sustain itself or it’s dividends through cutbacks and layoffs. Guess we’ll see there as well. As of right now the MSM has lost the trust of most of the middle class. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t so! And it is our kids that are doing the fighting and showing us the distortions and lies in the media. And the sheer lack of reporting on anything positive!

    BTW, I read and still read Pyle’s stories. The man was brilliant but there are a lot of brilliant writer’s out there living out of garbage cans. Pyle’s true worth was his connect with the Grunts and the ability to show that to the average joe citizen. Yon has that certain something. Like him or not he has that thing.

    Aw, I’m not still sore at you! Heh! We’ll never, ever agree on Sites and we both know it. I would love to see you wrangle some way into getting the modernation of our PR warfare going though. We have just simply got to git with the function and start fighting back in the war of opinion. If someone didn’t know where to go they would not know how well we are even doing. The DoD has great intel but it goes nowhere! The sheer numbers regarding the positives of the ISF and IA should be overwhelming but you can’t even find them if you don’t have access to the internet. That too is indefensible! Go for it! :-)

    I was going to argue something else but my senility kicked in again. It’s time for my meds, a Harp, and a rack! ;-)

    I’ll buy a dozen of Yon’s books!

  18. Blake Says:

    Prine is affected by something regarding Mr. Yon, but I doubt it is Mr. Yon’s lack of professionalism. Mr Yon’s popularity, perhaps. He makes credible points but they are swallowed in an animus of uncertain origin… his argument is advanced beneath the banner of professionalism, “here’s the right way to do it”, but is corrupted with an ad hominum sniping that borders on contempt such that I wonder if he knows what professionalism is. Certainly his definition does not seem to include the practice of good manners. The emotional content of Prine’s objections sound more like the guy at the bar when the cute blonde turns away from him and dances with someone else. Dan Rather doesn’t like successful bloggers, either, and he also likes belittle their accomplishments. But that is not a career enhancing position, is it?

  19. Karl Says:

    “Let me explain a bitter reality: Reporters do not “need” the U.S. military in Iraq to get out their stories. Because of a revolution in telecommunications, a journalist can send images, words and dialogue globally within seconds, powered by the sun or cheap batteries, without any interference from Coalition jammers.”‘

    Wow. The entire milblogging phenomenon completely contradicts your thesis. I regularly read things from Yon and others that I do not see in the “MSM” (though I don’t care for that term). I also see accounts of events that directly contradict MSM accounts of the same events. I even read blogs of embedded journalists that contradict MSM pieces. And I regularly read the complaints of milbloggers about the MSM coverage. I am not so naive as to think that the milbloggers do not have their own biases. However, as Mr. Prine points out, the MSM has its own biases. He chooses to attribute those biases to an ignorance about the military. That’s probably true many times. I would suggest that Mr. Prine ask himself why so many in the MSM are so completely ignorant about the military.

    I would also ask Mr. Prine to reconsider his argument that Yon is somehow unpopular as measured by donations. The fact is that there is not much money to be had from personal blogging at the current time. Conversely, I would ask him to look at what happened to the NYT’s list of popular articles once it started asking people to pay to read Maureen Dowd, et al. — suddenly they are not popular, by Mr. Prine’s definition. I would suggest that the NYT columnists are just as good (or bad) as they have always been, but that readers accustomed to the NYT online being ad-supported do not care to pay to read them. I could walk through the same argument as applied to Salon, where the subscriptions a mere fraction of their traffic (moost of which is by “day pass”). I could note that Andrew Sullivan — a writer of note — used to operate his site purely from donations, but has had to resort to advertising as his traffic has fallen.

    Mr. Prine criticizes Yon for looking through the soda straw without acknowledging that most of the MSM stories out of Iraq do not come from embeds, but from the soda straw of Baghdad, and mostly the Green Zone. Perhaps Mr. Prine would like to read this account of how the Baghdad bureau of the NYT operates for an explanation of why so many discount so much of the MSM output. Nor am I lumping Mr. Prine in with other MSM outlets to make this point. Mr. Prine may do a fine job. I will even give him Dexter Filkins (though I think DF brings his own biases). That woud make two decent reporters in the theater. In contrast , there is the link I provided above about the NYT. I could quickly link you to similar accounts about the WaPo bureau there — reliance on stringers whose biases are completely unknown, military officers blogging that it gets stories backwards, admissions from their own reporters that they rarely get outside their own Baghdad bubble, etc. And I could do the same for Knight-Ridder and others.

    Mr. Prine may not like Yon’s style, but I like his blogging for what it is. Indeed, Yon does not like to be called a journalist, because he does not consider himself to be one. And based on what I have read from Mr. Prine here, I’m far from impressed with his ability to present an argument. That may not affect his ability report facts, but given his demonstrated ability to adopt false premises about Yon and about the coverage of Iraq generally, maybe it does.

  20. Carol Says:

    Wow, everyone writing here is so much more readable that ole Carl, besides stating truths that he won’t understand.

    If he really thinks print media is profitable at the moment because one company he knows can pay for big phone bills, he really doesn’t understand how expenses are applied against a company’s tax bill and blah blah blah, excuse me for getting boring here, too much reading of what he’s written. Eek, it’s rubbing off on me.

    I need to revisit the other comments, like the one above….”and based on what I have read from Mr. Prine here I’m far from impressed with his ability to present an argument” – too right mate!

    When he holds the London Times up as an example (Murdoch owned by the way, there’s a guy who understand media), disregarding the ten other British newspapers that have dropped in circulation in the last year, I know this guy doesn’t care about facts. When he holds up the LA Times and NYTimes as examples of successful newspapers I just boggle. He has no idea what’s going on with those newspapers these days.

    The research survey he mentions is famous because it’s heaving with flaws in methodology, they’re so obvious it’s embarrassing. So he quotes a market research survey and doesn’t know that it’s been derided and should not be used to support any hypothesis about consumers’ attitudes towards newspapers.

    But you know what? He’s not going to change his mind, he thinks he’s envy free and more professional than the average bear.

    And the idea that a creative person can only be considered successful if they make money means he doesn’t know many writers or painters or musicians very well.

    By the way if his writing “comes across as supporting the elite” – why isn’t that elitist? And patronising, don’t forget I said patronising. Cheers.

  21. FenianEMT Says:

    Mr. Prine,

    I can’t really speak for others, but the word “elitist” did come to my mind as well when I read your posts. Now let me make it clear that I don’t mean it in a country-club lazy sort of way, or in an armchair quarterback sort of way. As you said, you are a trooper now and that earns you my respect and a good measure of credibility. The reason I thought your posts sounded elitist was strictly from a writing style perspective. You attack Yon’s writing because it does not conform to some abstract journalistic ideal. As such, you seem to suggest, it lacks credibility or some measure of value. I would argue just the opposite. His style of writing is far more accessible to the average person than the dry journalistic style that is typical of the “seasoned” media veterans who have been to j-school and then gone through apprenticeships before they finally were allowed some small measure of autonomy. Most of Yon’s dispatches (at least that I’ve read) are collections of stories. I have to admit that I can see your point when you say that his dispatches are disorganized. But the stories Yon tells are incredibly compelling. And he tells them very well, even if the actual gramatical structure is occasionally a bit lacking. But the fact is that it’s not about grammar. It’s about relating the reality of the incident, and Yon does a very good job of that.

    I think you’re off-base when attacking Yon’s subject matter. You point out that he’s embedded with a Stryker brigade and that the Stryker is a particularly controvercial weapons system. So what? I’ll admit that not having read about that particular controversy, I’m reasonably interrested. But it’s not really part of Yon’s format. He occasionally mentions shortcomings with weapons systems. He points out the lack of stopping power of the M-4 and the fact that a big enough IED will take out just about any of our armored vehicles if the timing of the detonation is right. But he, and the guys he’s writing about, are fighting a war half a world away from that controversy. It sounds to me like he has more subject matter than he can possibly write about right there in front of him. There are plenty of folks back home who can just as effectively write about any sort of scandal surrounding the Stryker.

    You seem to have ignored a number of previous posters pointing out the degree to which the mainstream media (and particularly the print media) has lost credibility in the last several years. For many of us, that is a large part of what makes Yon’s dispatches so great. It is very clear (partly from writing style) that Yon is not a part of the media estabilshment. And sadly, that actually gives him MORE credibility these days. Somebody above pointed out that Yon has chosen sides, and suggests that this choice makes him better somehow. I don’t exactly agree with that (though I certainly agree with Yon’s choice), but the point touches on an issue that I do find pretty important. Not so much that Yon has chosen sides, but that he doesn’t try to hide the fact that he has chosen sides. Many more established journalists claim impartiality and wave a banner of “journalistic integrity” that I find nauseating. It’s not that I have a problem with the ideas of impartiality and journalistic integrity. The problem is that many of these same journalists so clearly HAVE chosen sides and use almost every story to advance an agenda. And yet they scream about the lack of journalistic integrity in bloggers and talk-show hosts who are at least honest enough to own up to their agendas.

    And while we’re talking about agendas, you attack Yon for lack of perspective, but he seems to have a better grasp of the big picture in Iraq than most of the mainstream journalists reporting on the war. How come the main-stream media is so packed with stories of gloom and doom in Iraq, but has little to nothing about operations like the one Yon talks about in his “Jungle Law” dispatch? Why is it that the media reports every little setback, but rarely reports the successes? It’s certainly not because they aren’t happening. So how is Yon’s perspective worse than the bulk of the media’s?

    Also, I take some exception with your suggestion that Yon’s financial troubles somehow suggest that his work is of lower quality. Take a look at the Beta vs. VHS battle for an example of some of the flaws in that argument. I’m a staunch capitalist, but I am also not so naive as to think that capitalism always has the most positive results. Also, I am a volunteer firefighter/EMT. Does the fact that I don’t make any money at it somehow devalue what I do? For that matter, does the fact that police, firefighters, and yes even military don’t make a whole lot of money make what they do any less valuable?

    Finally, if you don’t mind, could you link some of the blog attacks on Galloway? I’ve read “We Were Soldiers Once and Young”, and have a great deal of respect for the man. I’d be interested to see what problems people have with him.

    Thanks for participating, and stay safe over there.

  22. Carl Says:

    Carol, your purposeful misreading of my words (perhaps they are too difficult to sound out) to construct strawman arguments is inane. But enjoy your precious little Oprah moment of catharsis. You got to talk big to a reporter. Good job. Now go brag to all the other ladies in the bridge club.

    The dominant media companies currently are highly profitable. If you do not understand that, I don’t know what to tell you. Obviously the SEC and I won’t change your pretty little mind, so we won’t try. Much of this information is publicly available. I will not speak for Fleet Street balance sheets.

    On the other comments, I think they are right that much daily coverage misses out on the “good things” that are going on in Iraq. Of course, by “good,” I hope they mean “some measurement of success in the achieving the goals of the war.”

    Famously, Rumsfeld doesn’t necessarily believe the Pentagon has even produced these “metrics,” as he calls them. So blast the various media for not “getting it,” I guess.

    The reality is that war correspondents are paid to cover a war. If there isn’t a war going on in the Shia south or the Kurdish north, they’re not going to hang around and cover the building of schools, rural electrification or canal dredging, although all of this is going on.

    Most interestingly, neither is Michael Yon. But I guess DoD doesn’t send many Stryker Brigades to erect school houses.

    “Prine is affected by something regarding Mr. Yon, but I doubt it is Mr. Yon’s lack of professionalism. Mr Yon’s popularity, perhaps. ”

    He’s not a professional reporter. Can an unpaid blogger be a “professional” blogger? I don’t know the blogging standards. Is he popular? Hard to tell. Our traditional “metrics” would imply that he’s not because he makes no money, but perhaps that’s unfair. Apparently there is some standard among blogs that suggests being destitute is good. I’m not an expert on that. A poster here seems to declare Yon a “success.”

    I guess if you’re linked to a lot of other unpaid bloggers in a chain of echo chambers mouthing the same faulty stories, then OK. Success! That seems to me, however, to be the criticism raised about the so-called “MSM.” The “MSM,” apparently, have nothing on bloggers when it comes to deceptive copy, predictible slant and “bad manners,” which I think would typify most of the comments in here.

    I have not attacked Yon personally, only his work. I think that’s fair. If you don’t, maybe you can explain all the contorted rationales left to describe why a professional war correspondent, Marine veteran and deploying-to-Iraq soldier might have some issues with Yon’s body of work.

    This criticism isn’t solely arising from my work as a reporter. I am an informed reader who just so happens to be in uniform, and perhaps my discussion might be animated as much by that. Hard to tell. It seems to boggle you.

    “without acknowledging that most of the MSM stories out of Iraq do not come from embeds, but from the soda straw of Baghdad, and mostly the Green Zone. ”

    I’m not sure of that at all! A Lexis-Nexis search shows that the vast majority of reports from all print media come from embedded reporters, many of whom answer to bureaus, but not all of them. That copy might come from Baghdad but receive feeds from embeds and stringers inthe field is not only typical, but expected. Perhaps what the poster is concerned about is the fact that lede stories are assembled by a committee in Baghdad before being moved to the U.S. or whichever city is processing the work.

    I’m not sure. It’s difficult to tell.

    All I know is that Burns and Filkins have done an outstanding job in Iraq. I don’t care about their personal lives, just as I don’t know about Yon’s. To me, it doesn’t matter.

    “military officers blogging that it gets stories backwards”

    And I’ve seen military officers who not only get the story backwards, but violate opsec along the way. But it’s not important what I noticed. It’s important what the senior leadership of the services has noticed. They are vitally concerned about the opsec violations by bloggers, but insist reporters have NOT done this.

    Perhaps this should be reported more. Or perhaps bloggers should begin a dialogue with professional war correspondents to see what they’re doing wrong and what journalists are doing right.

  23. MD Says:

    “You got to talk big to a reporter. Good job. Now, go brag to all the other ladies in the bridge club.”

    Wow.

  24. MD Says:

    Oh, since it seems a bit unfair to single that quote out, yes, others have been rude to you Mr. Prine, and that’s a shame.

    Again, good luck to you.

  25. FenianEMT Says:

    “Carol, your purposeful misreading of my words (perhaps they are too difficult to sound out) to construct strawman arguments is inane. But enjoy your precious little Oprah moment of catharsis. You got to talk big to a reporter. Good job. Now go brag to all the other ladies in the bridge club.”

    I certainly will not defend Carol’s tone. It epitomizes everything that is wrong with trying to have a debate in an anonymous forum like the Internet. However, sinking to her level does not exactly lend you a lot of credibility either. And it highlights another problem with the MSM (I’m a little confused about why you put it in quotes, btw). Most blogs operate in an interactive medium where those who disagree (or agree, but it is less relevant here) with a dispatch can voice their disagreement right there and often have it read along with the dispatch itself. This is a far different world from the ivory tower from which the MSM broadcasts its points. The only way someone can voice disagreement with an article in a newspaper, for example, and have it read by the same group as the original article is to send a letter to the editor and have the editor actually choose to print the letter (unlikely). Even then, the rebuttal will come much later than the actual article. Blogs (well, most of them…Yon seems to be an exception here), online fora, and talk radio force the writer to have a thicker skin and to be more prepared to defend his (her) points. Your reaction to Carol sounds to me (and I can’t read your mind, so I’ll be the first to admit that I could be off base here) like an artifact of that MSM attitude of intellectual imperviousness.

    “Famously, Rumsfeld doesn’t necessarily believe the Pentagon has even produced these “metrics,” as he calls them.”

    Relevance? Does the fact that Rumsfeld isn’t tracking “metrics” somehow excuse the media from reporting only one side of the story? And you are the only one who has brought the term “metrics” into this to begin with. Good things can happen, and you can report on them, without trying to apply some sort of quantitative metric to them.

    “they’re not going to hang around and cover the building of schools, rural electrification or canal dredging, although all of this is going on.”

    Okay, then shouldn’t the media be hiring “reconstruction correspondants” or something like that alongside the war correspandants? Is the NYT’s “All the news that’s fit to print” truly only one half of the story? Isn’t it part of the responsibility of the media to tell as much of the whole story as possible?

    And now that I think of it, how is the reconstruction any less a part of the war effort? To suggest that actual combat operations are the only part of the war is terribly naive. So why can’t some of these vaunted war correspondants report on the other aspects of the effort? And by the way, I’d say that Yon’s report on “Operation Rhma” is an example of this.

    But when I objected to that in my earlier post, I really was simply referring to combat operations. Because we’re not hearing about much positive on that front either (at least not in the MSM).

    “The “MSM,” apparently, have nothing on bloggers when it comes to deceptive copy, predictible slant and “bad manners,” which I think would typify most of the comments in here.”

    That’s unfortunate. I really hate to see somebody who seems to have been making some reasonable arguments (even if I don’t agree with them) completely blow his own credibility by resorting to such petty and cheap tactics as ad hominem attacks.

    “I have not attacked Yon personally, only his work. I think that’s fair.”

    I agree, and I apologize if the wording of my previous post suggested otherwise. I intended the implication when I referred to you attacking Yon to be that you were attacking his work or his writing style. I guess it didn’t come through so well.

    “Or perhaps bloggers should begin a dialogue with professional war correspondents to see what they’re doing wrong and what journalists are doing right.”

    It’s hard to maintain credibility when you say something this condescending while still claiming not to be elitist. I think most bloggers would tell you that it’s the differences between their reporting and that of the “professional journalists” that makes their work valuable. Also, let me point out that it is patently obvious that not all bloggers deserve this sort of defense. Blogs exist in a medium that is accessible to virtually anyone with a computer and a phone line. That means that the signal-to-noise ratio is going to be a little bit lower than in most forms of MSM simply due to the extremely low barriers to entry.

    Finally, you seem to be stuck on the flawed notion that professionalism is predicated upon some sort of monetary compensation. I know paid and volunteer firefighters who are extremely professional. I also know paid and volunteer firefighters who are extremely unprofessional. As far as I can tell, there is really no correlation, despite what the IAFF is desparate to make you think. The same goes for any profession. If you really believe that money = professionalism, then I can probably come up with the names or one or two “professional” reporters with whom you wouldn’t much like to be grouped.

  26. Carol Says:

    Carl honey, I’ve actually never heard of you, are you “big”? Now Michael Yon I have heard of, he’s getting talked about here in London and in Dublin, funnily enough.

    I have partied with some stupendously creative people, some quite wealthy therefore successful by your definition. But I am trying to rid myself of the bad habit of name dropping. Should I be thrilled that you’ve registering my existence? I’ll have to lexis nexis you and see what comes up.

    You are actually getting a bit of a drubbing here, although some commenters have been quite respectful in their tone and manner. All credit to you for persistence, maybe some of the really killer comments ARE getting through, one can but hope.

    Do you know what nobody’s mentioned yet? Michael Yon’s brilliant sense of humour. Your writing style is plodding and self conscious. Relax and open your heart and see how much more persuasive you’ll be.

    Bloggers are already having a dialogue, albeit with the punters in the cheap seats. If I had any recommendation to make to a blogger I’d steal EA’s tagline: “Challenge Everything.” Journalists can’t if their editors won’t let them, bloggers can, and that has made all the difference.

  27. Carl Says:

    MD and Fenian, I didn’t feel the need to re-explain my position on decorum and politeness because I mentioned it earlier in another part of this website. But you can go here to read it: gmapalumni.org/chapomatic/?p=1237#comments

    Basically, I was pointing out to Carol how his/her comments appear by returning to it in kind. Not that I believe it. I don’t know anything about him/her. But I wanted to show, in a similar vein, how one would read them.

    Again, it’s explained in greater detail at the aforementioned place.

    “This is a far different world from the ivory tower from which the MSM broadcasts its points. ”

    I guess I don’t really understand that. I communicate with readers all the time. I get hundreds of emails every week, and I answer every one of them. Ditto, telephone calls. It’s part of the job.

    I can understand if some TV anchormen or reporters can’t do that because of the sheer volume of mail, but for most reporters and photographers it comes with the territory.

    Perhaps that’s not as good as having your “rebuttal” printed alongside a story you haven’t read, yet, but it’s the best I can do for you. The freedom of the press goes to the guy who owns the press. The nice thing about blogging is that everyone can set up his or her own press, but I don’t exactly see as a limitation the way things currently are done in print, radio or TV. They are what they are.

    “Relevance? Does the fact that Rumsfeld isn’t tracking “metrics” somehow excuse the media from reporting only one side of the story? ”

    I brought that up to raise a larger point. People want to hear about the “good” things going on in Iraq. I guess I quibble with who will say what is the “good.” Building a school is noble, and perhaps more important than killing a terrorist to winning the war strategically. But how do we know? Do you want a fifty-fifty split between “good” and “bad?”

    It’s telling that the Pentagon often can’t tell Congress or even their own chief what is “good,” “bad,” “effective” or “ineffective.” It seems a bit wry to blame the various media for value judgements the Pentagon itself can’t make. But, on the whole, I agree with you. There is a great bit of life in Iraq that’s not being covered.

    There are some newspapers who do employ what you term “reconstruction reporters.” As much as one would like to put a positive spin on much of this, not all the reporting on reconstruction can or should be positive. There are boondoogles in any large publicly-funded enterprise, especially one relying on capitalistically-challenged foreign contractors.

    Of a greater problem has been the very real security problem in Iraq that prevents many independent, objective western reporters from roaming the countryside at will to really experience the “good” and “bad.” This is a problem that’s not necessarily unique to this war, although I would say the $25,000 bounty on the heads (literally) of western reporters kind of chills the drive to get those “good” stories out.

    “Finally, you seem to be stuck on the flawed notion that professionalism is predicated upon some sort of monetary compensation.”

    Actually, I’m not. All I am saying is that the objective, capitalistically-derived system of determining worth in the western journalism profession is how much others are willing to pay to listen to you. Obviously, this measure isn’t one many admirers of Yon’s work would like to employ because he’s penniless and requires donations to subsist in an embed slot.

    Now, some of us agree to make less than we’re worth (for ethical reasons I refuse to do paid TV or radio slots, etc.) or because of family concerns (remaining in Pittsburgh rather than going to New York or DC or Jerusalem or Tokyo), but it’s still the ruler that we face.

    This is true, I imagine, for almost every profession in America, although some occupations attract volunteers who agree to serve with little or no pay (Priests, volunteer firefighters, auxiliary cops, etc.).

    All I’m asking for is a different sort of measurement. There seems to be limited interest in his work from professional writers, whether they’re reporters or authors or whatever, except as a sort of curiousity.

    Some have proposed “web hits” or similar markers, but a blogger friend of mine tried that and found that “Cindy Sheehan” was the most popular topic on the web. I’m not sure that really reflects the nature of public opinion in this country, and perhaps points a bit more to the leftward tilt of Internet communication in general.

  28. Subsunk Says:

    JarheadDad has hit the nail on the head here. I’ll second his arguments. Mr. Prine, you need to do some soul searching if you believe you don’t come off as “elitist”. The word I was thinking of was less positive than that, but means the same thing. I wish you luck on your next tour, wherever it is. But I think you’d better rethink your “I know this better than you” argument, unless you happen to be your own Commanding Officer. Then think whatever you want — but bring every one of our kids home alive, you pompous know it all jerk.

    Subsunk

  29. Carol Says:

    Carl, you’re so funny – you realised how monumentally misogynist you sounded and you’re trying to back away from it with the he/she bit.

    Even time you post you pretend you’re starting afresh, but all your other comments are here. So it’s easy to see how you sidestep away from what you’ve said, at least you’re consistent.

    Your opinion is valueless, except to increase interest in the opposite belief. What other writers do you think are poor, because now I’m gagging to read them.

    Your writing style is meandering AND inferior to Michael Yon’s. You are so totally envious of him that it’s clouding your brain. I’ll be speaking to a psychology professor whose specialty is linguistics today. If what he says is G rated, I’ll report back!

    But you’ve slimed your way around some of your comments and they’re all posted, in chronological order

  30. Carol Says:

    My gentle colleague laughed softly and wouldn’t be drawn, not exactly.

    In the past he’s actually taken me to task, saying “words can be life threatening”.

    He said this morning “If you can combine an intuitive way of thinking with an extremely logical way of thinking, you’ll always amaze people because they’ll never know what to expect.”

    He also advised me to read “An Intimate History of Humanity” written by Theodore Zeldin. He knows me quite well and knows exactly how to take me down a peg, kindly but unequivocally. So consider me chastised.

  31. Carl Says:

    In a certain sense, the anonymous courage of souls like “Carol” and “Subsunk” is hilarious. In another, their bile is deeply offensive.

    The only reason why I wrote “he” or “she” is because “Carol,” in the American parlance, can be either a male or female name (although it tends to show up among women).

    It’s neither intended to be emasculating or misogynistic. The reality, of course, is that a great many people know me. I’m not sure if anyone knows you. But at least you got to talk big to a reporter, and that’s precious.

  32. Carol Says:

    Dear Carl, Michael Collins, the father of urban guerilla warfare, used the name Carol as one of his aliases, I’ve always found that encouraging as I am actually named Carol. Thank you for saying I have courage. Talking to you is no big deal so don’t worry about that. I was much more daunted talking to my psychologist this morning as he gets me – and he laughed at me! You are not going to get me to drop names, today of all days I’m imbued with self control. Very best wishes for your time in Iraq. And just to end on an encouraging note, it’s been scientifically proven that our personalities are fluid and keep changing throughout our lives, so there’s hope for you and for me!

  33. Robert Crawford Says:

    “Had he tried to peddle this stuff in the so-called “MSM” he would be penniless. That’s not because of any “message,” it’s because a lot of it is repetitive, boring and ridden with cliches and half-truths, without any particular interest in the Iraqi people, the controversy tailing the very brigade that he ’s following (a controversy within the military and Congress, mind you, not among the general public) or any concern for drawing it into the context of the WoT.”

    You really don’t get it. Yon’s not telling those stories. Yon’s chronicling the lives of fighting men, not making the “first draft of history” and trying to change the world.

    This is the problem with the press — so stuck on making themselves big, they can’t be bothered to tell the story. Your fixation on cash for measuring Yon’s worth is telling, a prime example of a guildsman looking down on the “amateur” and sneering.

  34. MilBlogs Says:

    Re: Pulling Rank

    I always followed SOPA’s advice and Col. Sensing’s directive (retired), myself. Both links are on the bottom of this post. I figure talking on blogs is like talking at a bar. You don’t fraternize; you don’t assume your rank equals…

  35. MilBlogs Says:

    Re: The Exploding Baseball…

    Arkin manages to notice Badger 6 snarking at him in that entertaining post. Of course Arkin misspells the name of our favorite milblogging public figure. (So now in the space of months, he’s gotten his name, rank, and job gotten……

  36. Chapomatic » The Ethics In America Incident Says:

    [...] accidentally wandered into some media criticism, so perhaps I should outline one source of why I feel differently about the storied Fourth Estate [...]

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