Democratic Underground

The Death of Reporters and Reporting in Afghanistan
January 8, 2002
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 incident.

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 reporting.

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 news story.

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.

Printer-friendly version
Tell a friend about this article Tell a friend about this article
Discuss this article