Death of Reporters and Reporting in Afghanistan
by Richard Prasad
We get war reporting every day from Afghanistan. Some of
the best war coverage I've seen has come in the war in Afghanistan.
Most of the best reporting, however, seems to have come from
foreign correspondents. American reporters, especially television
reporters, have taken the occasion of the war to do what they
do best, engage in ruthless self-promotion and personal glorification.
Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place for reporters.
Anywhere from 8 to 14 reporters have been killed during the
coverage of this war. At the time of the fall of Jalalabad,
four reporters were killed. Two of these reporters, Julio
Fuentes of the Spanish paper "El Mundo" and Maria Grazia Cutuli
of the Italian paper Corniere De La Seria, reported that they
had found viles of sarin gas near Jalalabad. The day after
they had filed these reports, they were murdered.
This is real news, this is important news, this is news worthy
of getting shot over, but where has our news media been in
reporting stories like this? The sad fact is that hard news
stories are nowhere to be found on American television, replaced
by the pretty boys and glamour girls of television news journalism.
There is no more glaring example of the overindulgent narcissism
of the American television news media than Geraldo Rivera.
He quit his job at MSNBC in November to jump to the Fox News
Channel, as a war correspondent. He immediately generated
controversy by bragging about carrying a gun while reporting
in war ravaged Afghanistan. One AP reporter even went as far
as to write a letter to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies,
saying that it was dangerous for Geraldo to talk of being
armed while in Afghanistan.
Geraldo then went further in a December 6th report for Fox,
Rivera said he got emotional and choked up while standing
near the 'hallowed ground' where a friendly fire incident
had taken place. The fact is Geraldo was nowhere near Kandahar
where the friendly fire incident had taken place. Geraldo
was in essence making up the news as he went fabricating his
presence in a place that at that time, was a place which was
very important to the familles who died in that friendly fire
Frankly, I preferred Geraldo when he was getting hit by chairs
thrown by white supremacists while hosting his talk show.
At least I knew what he was then, he was not running around
masquerading as a journalist. He was then what he is now,
Jerry Springer with a mustache.
The bad news for tv journalism is that Geraldo is hardly
alone in his preference for style over substance. Christiane
Amanpour shows up nightly on CNN, trading on her fame from
the Gulf war days, but can any of you remember a single report
she has filed? The answer is no. This is a woman who reported
on November 26th that Bin Laden was in Kandahar, the conventional
wisdom is now that Bin Laden is in Pakistan, but when did
he cross over and why didn't any reporter try to find out
where he was? Amanpour is apparently more concerned about
how she looks in Muslim head dress than about doing any hard
Another member of the head dress brigade is Ashleigh Banfield
of MSNBC, whose reporting for MSNBC is utterly forgettable,
people comment on the change in the color of Banfierld's hair,
or the shape of her glasses, and not the content of her reports.
War correspondents like Banfield, Amanpour and Rivera seem
to be the future of television news, but does this bode well
for the future?
The answer is no. It seems to me that reporters hve become
nothing more than an echo chamber for the Pentagon. When the
search for Bin Laden began, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
said that the US was tightening the noose around Bin Laden.
The lead news story that night, was the noose is tightening
around Bin Laden. Later, when Rumsfeld said that Bin Laden
may be dead and buried under the rocks, that was the lead
Reporting is not simply repeating what the government tells
you and reporting that as fact, a parrot can do that. The
real skill of reporting is finding sources off the record,
or people on the ground in Afghanistan who will tell you what's
really going on in Afghanistan. So far, for whatever reason,
vanity, laziness, our news media has not even tried to develop
sources other than officials inside Washington, and that leads
to what we're seeing today, general confusion about the whereabouts
of Bin Laden and Mullah Omar.
And a few days ago, after yet another Pentagon briefing,
we were shocked to find out that one of our military was shot
to death in a firefight during an ambush. Leading up to news
of the death were conflicting reports of whether our military
was or was not going to join Afghans in the fighting. We were
led to believe by Rumsfeld that US forces were not going to
be involved, but again, there was no independent press to
clarify the situation, and so the public thinks that we are
in a mop up phase in Afghanistan.
And so who is the only person fighting the military to allow
his reporters access to the war in Afghanistan? Larry Flynt.
Flynt filed his suit in November, but the judge has taken
until early January to hear arguments about the merits of
the case. In his lawsuit Flynt calls the Bush Administration's
rules 'arbitrary and capriccios'
The fact that it is Flynt suing for access for reporters
speaks volumes about the sad state of affairs of journalism
today. Why didn't CNN, or FOX or MSNBC or any other news organization
initiate this lawsuit? Are they comfortable with the stories
they are getting from Afghanistan? Or more precisely, the
stories they are being spoonfed by the Pentagon? Are we satisfied
with the war coverage we are seeing and reading?
I remember the first time I heard a reporter's name before
the name of the story they were covering. The reporters' names
were Woodword and Bernstein. The story was of course Watergate.
But Woodword and Bernstein approached things in the right
order, they got the story, and then became famous. The likes
of war correspondents like Rivera, Banfield and Amanpour attempt
to get famous without getting the story. And that is an indictment
of our current media.