Too Close to the Story. (Sports/Media)
Pollack, Joe, St. Louis Journalism Review
There have been a lot of stories about "embedded" war correspondents during the period of the recent War of Aggression against Iraq, an act which gave the Bush Dynasty a Unique place in American history--the first father-son presidency in which both men ignored the process and the Congress, and led the nation into undeclared wars.
Embedding, or placing reporters in the midst of combat units in the field, was a stroke of public relations genius by someone. There were dozens of splendid stories out there for the taking (at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reporter Ron Harris did exciting work and photographer Andy Cutraro was an ideal complement. Unfortunately, Terry Ganey got to Iraq too late to see actual combat). But as someone said, it was like looking at a parade through a soda straw--the reporter had an extremely narrow field of vision.
And the wider relationship between news sources and reporters, exemplified most in sports, but occurring throughout the newspaper, rose into view.
Embedded reporters are like sports writers who cover the same team for years and years and years. The longer they are on hand, the closer they get to the team and the farther they are from any sort of bad news about it. It probably was most true in small college towns where the sports editor followed Local U. for a generation, dined and drank regularly with coaches and athletic directors, turned a blind eye to anything except what happened between the white lines, and was rarely critical then.
It's an extremely difficult place to be, and the sports editor, or managing editor, is right in the middle. The longer the writer is on the beat, the more chance there is for him to get most stories first--stories about recruits, the coach's comments, the in-depth analysis. But the longer he is on the beat, the narrower is his field of vision. In Iraq, reporters saw individual feats by men they ate with and slept with. They may also have seen some dishonest, even evil, acts, but they probably felt constrained not to write about them.
After all, it was not the Mizzou beat writer, Bill Coats, who wrote about Rickey Clemons and his problems, or about Quin Snyder and his lackadaisical approach to checking classroom and discipline records while closely examining those of jump-shooting accuracy. And this is not a criticism of Coats, a fine reporter whose game analysis is excellent. So Vahe Gregorian, who is one of those rare reporters who seems even to understand the machinations of the U.S. Olympic Committee, worked on the story. After all, Coats may be covering the Tigers again in the coming season, and it would not help him, or the Post, if his sources dried up. For all I know, Coats may have been the first to discover the Clemons problems and went to one of his bosses to get some help, or fresh eyes, on the story. …