Published October 16, 2007
When retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez spoke before the Military Reporters and Editors Association he chastised the media’s reporting on the war in Iraq. He nailed reporters for what he said was "unscrupulous reporting, solely focused on supporting an agenda and preconceived notions of the U.S. military." This statement received scant media attention. Instead all the headlines focused on Sanchez’s criticism of the war’s management.
While having the former commander of American forces in Iraq call the war a "nightmare with no end in sight" is indeed newsworthy, the media failed to cover the general’s condemnation of the media.
He said that parent media organizations have political agendas that shape how the news is reported. He seemed to become angry, saying: "What is clear to me is that you are perpetuating the corrosive partisan politics that is destroying our country and killing our service members who are at war. My assessment is that your profession, to some, has strayed from these ethical standards and allowed external agendas to manipulate what the American public sees on TV, reads in newspapers and what they see on the Web," Sanchez said.
I have a beef with both sides: the media for ignoring this outright but also the general for not being more specific and more timely in his critique.
First, if he is going to say that the media has jeopardized the safety of U.S. troops, he should give details about these incidents. Issuing vague statements without concrete facts are of little help to reporters and editors who are covering stories. If he nailed media organizations for revealing, let’s say, the location of U.S. troops during an operation, it is likely that the company’s competitors would investigate, especially if it happened more than once. Maybe if he backed up his statements with specifics, it would have received coverage. Maybe not.
Perhaps the more important matter is why did Sanchez not speak up and speak up loudly when this was happening? If the media is revealing information that jeopardizes our men and women, it is his job and the job of those who work for him to put a stop to it. He had the ability to shut down embeds if a company was not following the rules.
I’m suspicious of the general’s timing. Sanchez is said to be considering writing a book. No doubt his frank statements about the media and the war in general were an attempt to lure in publishers. "Look, I can make headlines! I can sell books! Give me a book deal!"
Regardless, there is no doubt that some in the media have an agenda when it comes to covering Iraq and that many reporters have preconceived notions about the military. (I’ll write about that another day.) Sanchez’s statements about media bias certainly are solid, but sometimes leadership means taking a stand when it really matters — when one is in the position to do something about it — not a few years later.
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