Pool System Inadequate, Western Journalists Say Lack of Access to Troops Leads Many to Head out on Own to Front Lines

Article excerpt

FRUSTRATED United States journalists, despairing of a pool system they say is impeding full coverage of the war in the Gulf, are striking out in growing numbers on their own unauthorized visits to combat units.

In doing so, they are following in the footsteps of foreign counterparts, whose effective exclusion from the pools has forced them to rely on their own resources to provide first-hand coverage of the conflict.

The US military, however, upset by what it calls "unilateral" reporting trips, is threatening offenders with suspension of their Saudi Arabian press credentials.

Four members of a French TV crew were detained near the Saudi-Iraqi border Friday evening by a US Marine Corps patrol. The Marines will ask the Saudi authorities to revoke the journalists' credentials and visas, said Marine spokesman Chief Warrant Officer Eric Carlson.

As the prospect of a ground war looms, tensions are rising between correspondents and the military organizers of the pool system, who authorize small groups of journalists to accompany troops on the condition they make their reports available to all their colleagues.

"The system is working very poorly," complains Phil Shenon of The New York Times. "My paper has had a reporter in the field for only five or six days" since the war began Jan. 17. "We have got much more by sending a correspondent out in his own car to talk to the troops," he adds.

Col. Bill Mulvey, the Army officer in charge of arranging the US pools, says he has not been able to attach journalists to units as much as he would like because of logistical difficulties, the distances involved, and because field commanders have not been ready to accept reporters. Even if that were not the case, he says, with more than 800 press people registered at his Joint Information Bureau, "we are never going to satisfy the journalists."

The lack of official access to the troops has prompted increasing numbers of reporters to drive north in their own vehicles seeking out soldiers.

"The whole pool system is eroding because the restrictions are so unrealistic and journalists are growing in frustration and boldness," says Chuck Lewis, of the Hearst newspaper chain.

"To do their job, people have to consider ways of doing it outside the system," adds Associated Press reporter John King.

To Colonel Mulvey, however, organizations that bypass the system have no place on his pools. …