Skip to content

Journalist Michael Hastings’ embed permission is revoked


- The author of the Rolling Stone article that ended the military career of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander in Afghanistan, has been denied permission to join Soviet U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

By Glenn Greenwald in Salon

Stars & Stripes, December 18, 2009

The nominee for the Pentagon’s top public affairs job promised Thursday he will review Defense Department policies to ensure that journalists are not being denied embeds with combat troops based on the tenor of their reporting, a practice exposed by Stars and Stripes last summer. Douglas Wilson, who is expected to be confirmed as the new assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was opposed to rating reporters as “friendly” or “negative” when considering their applications to accompany U.S. combat troops, and will look into the matter when he takes over the post.

In written testimony presented before his nomination hearing, Wilson went even further, stating, “In my view, we should never be a party to efforts to place so-called ‘friendly reporters’ into embeds while blocking so-called unfriendly reporters.”

Associated Press, today

The author of the Rolling Stone article that ended the military career of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander in Afghanistan, has been denied permission to join U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Tuesday. Defense Department spokesman Col. David Lapan told reporters that freelance writer Michael Hastings was rebuffed when he asked to accompany, or “embed,” with American forces next month.

Hastings said today on his Twitter feed that his embed request had been granted last month, and that today’s decision is a reversal of that approval. 

It’s not exactly news that the embed process distorts war reporting in a way that propagandizes the American public.  That’s been its purpose from the start, back when Rumsfeld press aide Victoria Clarke conceived of the program for the Iraq WarA leaked Pentagon memo from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, written in the wake of the McChrystal firing, talks about the embed process as one critical tool for war messaging to be controlled.  Mother Jones‘ Adam Weinstein — who happened to be in the Baghdad public affairs office when it happened — recounts the denial last year of embed permission to a Stars & Stripes reporter on the explicit ground that his reporting reflected too negatively on the war and, specifically, that he failed to include aspects which the U.S. military wanted highlighted.  It was that incident — as well as the revelation last year that the Pentagon was paying a private contractor to rate the favorability of war coverage of various journalists to determine embed applications — to which the new public affairs officer was responding when he vowed at his hearing to “ensure that journalists are not being denied embeds with combat troops based on the tenor of their reporting.”

But as this Hastings episode demonstrates, the embed process is still being used primarily as a means of propagandizing the public about the war.  The superb, courageous war reporter Jerome Starkey of the Times of Londonwhose independent, non-embedded investigative work forced the U.S. Army to acknowledge its lies about a night raid in Southern Afghanistan which killed five civilians, including three pregnant women, and which had been covered-up with evidence tampering — detailed earlier this year in a must-read piece for Nieman Watchdog how the embed process is used to reward subservient journalists and punish ones who report negatively on the war:

This self-censorship is compounded by the “embed culture,” which encourages journalists to visit the frontlines with NATO soldiers, who provide them food, shelter, security and ultimately with stories. British troops will only accept journalists who let military censors approve their stories before they are filed. Ostensibly, this is to stop sensitive information reaching the insurgents. In my three and a half years in Afghanistan, the British invariably use it as an opportunity to editorialize. . . . . In Helmand, in August 2008, a British censor attached to the Parachute Regiment threatened to ban me from ever embedding again if I filed footage of a paratrooper firing his heavy machine gun without wearing body armor. This had nothing to do with operational security and everything to do with health and safety, domestic UK politics (reference kit shortages and soldiers’ well-being), and ultimately ‘arse-covering’ within the military.

 To my eternal shame, I backed down. Embeds were my livelihood. . . .

 The Americans are just as subtle. I was thrown off a trip with the Marines Special Operations Command troops (MarSOC) last year when they realized I had written a story many months earlier linking their colleagues to three of Afghanistan’s worst civilian casualty incidents.

 The platoon commander boasted that his Special Forces were “a fusion of weapons and intelligence”.  Two hours later he asked me what my name was.  Then he booked me on the next flight out.  At least we know the weapons work.

 As a freelance reporter, as I was then, the NATO blacklist was a daunting prospect. Many journalists I know here still prefer access to truth. Looking back, for me, it was the best thing that could have happened.

 I have traveled from the north east corner of Afghanistan to the capital of Helmand province, and every major city in between, independently. I plan hard and take local security advice, and I am lucky that my newspaper supports me. . . .

 I take solace from the more experienced and intrepid of my colleagues who have been through all this before. NATO lies and unless we check them, they get away with it. If we check them, they attack us. It’s unpleasant but important. There’s no doubt in my mind that we must continue to question what the soldiers want us to know.

As Starkey describes, reporters who embed with or otherwise rely upon the U.S. or British military see only that which military officials want them to see.  Still, that is often the only way that many journalists feel they can safely cover the war, so they submit to those terms.  After Rachel Maddow’s well-promoted trip to Afghanistan, I asked her about the influence this process had on limiting and distorting what she was able to see, but for the first time ever, she did not respond to my inquiries.  As Matt Yglesias writes about the Hastings case:  ”I think it’s pretty obvious that the military’s practice of doing these embeds constitutes a heightened version of the conflict of interest that’s endemic to the reporter/guy-who-talks-to-reporter dynamic.” It goes without saying that not all reporters who embed with the military are corrupted, but the process itself is corrupting and is designed to be.

I spoke with Hastings today and will post a podcast interview with him tomorrow about what is clearly punishment for his having reported negatively on a General, and what this means more broadly about the embed process and war reporting.  The military’s response is that embedding is a privilege, not a right, and they decide in their sole discretion which well-behaved reporters get that privilege.  That certainly appears to be true, and one thing is clear:  Lara Logan — who increasingly sounds as though she’s auditioning to be the Pentagon spokesperson or for a position as Fox News host — is in no danger of losing her embedding “privileges” any time soon, the way Hastings just did.

About all of this, I do have this question:  last October, when Fox News claimed (dubiously) that the White House had excluded it from a press pool interview with compensation czar Kenneth Feinberg, the other major news organizations banded together to protest Fox’s exclusion:

The Washington bureau chiefs of the five TV networks consulted and decided that none of their reporters would interview Feinberg unless Fox News was included. 

Will war journalists embedded with the U.S. military in Afghanistan (and their employers) take a similar stand on behalf of Hastings?  Given the reflexive sympathy many of them expressed for the military, and the intense hostility they expressed toward Hastings during the McChrystal controversy, that seems highly unlikely.  That speaks volumes about what is bred by the embed process.

View the original article at Veterans Today

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Posted in War on terror.

Tagged with Afghanistan, British, Defense, NATO, news, Pentagon.

Support #altnews & keep Dark Politricks alive

Any support to keep this site running would be much appreciated! If you see any adverts that interest you then please visit them as it helps me without you even needing to give me any money. A few clicks is all it takes to help keep the servers running and #altnews alive!

Please remember I have written hundreds of articles for this site and I host numerous amounts of material that has been taken offline by their original hosters which would be unavailable for viewing if it wasn't for this site. Therefore I would kindly ask you to help support me so that the site can continue doing what I think is an important job as well as reporting on stories the mainstream media would rather you didn't know about. I personally think it is important to host material such as removed reports that show that even FOX News once repoted on Israeli spy rings following the 9.11 hijackers before September 11th Or publishing the original Liberal Democrats Freedom Bill which was removed from their site once they enacted some watered down rubbish instead once they got into power.

However if you don't want to use the very obvious and cost free ways (to you) to help the site and keep me writing for it then please consider making a small donation, especially if you have a few quid sitting in your PayPal account doing nothing useful!

0 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.