WASHINGTON, D.C. -- How is it that the American press, particularly the broadcast press, has become one of the most salient stories of this war? At first, we might think that this is a consequence of a new development in the sexual revolution, as the members of the press boast of now being "embedded" with our troops. But that would be a misreading of the term.
"Embedded" has no sexual meaning or connotation whatsoever. It is a neologism supposedly dreamed up by a member of the Bush administration to give the press the idea that it is being given unparalleled access to the front lines. Devoid of the hoopla, embedded merely means the journalists are traveling with our troops, and under very Spartan conditions -- no hanky-panky.
The unhappy consequence of this "embedding" is that the journalists back in the broadcast studios are transforming their traveling journalists into an important part of the story. As media reporter Howard Kurtz wrote the other day: "The reason we're all spending so much time debating media coverage of the war is that there's never been a war where reporters interviewed soldiers who were on the ground firing or had just been wounded. A hundred things may go right, but if five things go wrong, you're watching them live and in Technicolor."
The first half of Kurtz's statement is wrong, as I shall demonstrate. War correspondents have traveled with soldiers in past wars, interviewing them under all sorts of conditions, some quite horrible. But Kurtz's later observation is perceptive. Our embedded war correspondents' reports are often broadcast immediately from the war front to millions of viewers back home. As a consequence, producers in the broadcast studio and viewers back home are suddenly seeing these correspondents as heroes and superb journalists.
Allow me to file a caveat. It has yet to be demonstrated that any of these journalists are heroes. What is more, inveigling a spot on a convoy headed to the front is just the first step in being a superb journalist. After that, it is necessary to fasten onto a good story, and with vivid language. Today's broadcast journalists may have some technical skills with cameras and microphones, but I have yet to see any with a gift for articulation. That is the domain of the writer, and not many writers are being accorded stardom in this war's media coverage. If it were up to me, I would accord stardom to John F. Burns of The New York Times. He has managed to get to some choice observation points, and he is a gifted writer.
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