Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Article excerpt

ON THE FOG OF WAR

'Embedding' could be the only sure winner in the current conflict

Have you noticed anything different as Week Two of Gulf War II draws to a close? It's the briefings. They seem, well, almost irrelevant, and certainly are five or six hours out of date by the time they air.

During Gulf War I, in the absence of front-line reporting, the briefings in Riyadh and Dhahran in Saudi Arabia and at the Pentagon were the focus of every eye in the country and the world. There were the briefings and the hotel-rooftop Scud Studs, and that was pretty much it. In the absence of the real heroes fighting that 100-hour war, we made popular heroes of the military briefers, of all people. Marine Brig. Gen. Richard "Butch" Neal in Riyadh. Army Lt. Gen. Tom Kelly at the Pentagon. And, of course, the Mother of All Briefers, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf himself.

The difference is in the 700-plus embedded media people riding into battle with the Marines and Army troops on the bumpy, muddy, sandy roads converging on Baghdad. They all look like hell: caked with yellow sand; chemical suits stiff with dirt and mud and sweat; goggles keeping the blowing sand out of their eyes. They look just like the soldiers and Marines all around them. They are talking real-time into microphones and satellite phones, bringing us the news as it happens on their piece of a huge battleground.

The briefers are unable to confirm what was reported six hours ago, because military communications are different from media communications. The reporters assigned to cover those briefings are as frustrated as those briefing them. Maybe more so. The questions and questioners seem a bit touchy if not edgy.

At the Pentagon briefings most days, it has been Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Meyer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, bobbing and weaving as they are asked questions about the assumptions and expectations built into their war plan: assumptions that the Shiites in southern Iraq would rise up and greet the liberators with rose petals; that the Republican Guard would surrender en masse; that the brittle leadership circles around Saddam Hussein would crack under the blows of a "shock and awe" air campaign. Whoops.

From the front flow reports and stunning images of Marine supply convoys fighting to get clear of the "irregulars" or guerrillas making them run a gantlet of fire past Nasiriya. And the 7th U.S. Cavalry slaughtering fanatics attacking tanks with nothing more than AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. …

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