The abduction of 28-year-old Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll in Baghdad on Jan. 7 has had a profound effect on the city's Western press corps. More so than ever, unembedded media in Baghdad are fortified in a handful of besieged hotels that are under constant surveillance by insurgent groups. Few Western reporters ever leave these hotels, instead relying on local stringers to gather quotes and research stories. And some reporters are finally throwing in the towel, forever abandoning this relentless and unforgiving city. . . .
.S. Army Lt. Col. Barry Johnson has some sound theories about the insurgents' media strategies. While stressing that he "can't speak for insurgent groups," Col. Johnson says these strategies "boil down to influencing the media environment ... to get attention away from progress."
Whether there is much progress in Arab Iraq is certainly debatable, but it's apparent that the increasing inability of media to cover ANYTHING, much less coalition successes, is hurting the war effort. Iraq is a big, complicated problem, and as media flee or hunker down deeper in their hotel fortresses, the Western world's understanding of Iraq can only suffer.
There is a workable solution, and it's called embedding. No one protects journos as well as the U.S. and British militaries, but many media refuse to embed because they fear losing their objectivity. This is a valid fear, one even U.S. officers acknowledge, but what's better: slightly biased coverage? Or no coverage at all?
As the UPI's Pam Hess noted a while back, the press seems relatively unconcerned about being manipulated by the insurgency, but deeply afraid of anything that might slant its reporting in favor of the U.S. military; this is just another illustration of that phenomenon. But terrorism is, of course, information war disguised as military action, and manipulating the press is what the terrorists are all about. If the press were more resistant to such tactics, the terrorists would be less effective -- and, ironically, the press would be a less appealing target.