Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Journalists and criticism

Instapundit makes a very good point:

"Is there any profession that's worse at admitting mistakes and taking criticism than the journalistic profession? "

The stereotype of the military is that they are constantly fighting the last war and are resistant to change. Yet, the various war colleges and service schools set to work analyzing Vietnam while the fighting was still going on. The mistakes and lessons were not swept under the rug. New doctrine was developed and all officers educated accordingly. All this happened while the draft was ended and the defense budget reduced in real terms.

My question is, how many J-schools focus on what went right and wrong with war reporting in SE Asia? Do any of them discuss how the military victory of Tet '68 was portrayed as a military defeat for the US and why this mistake was made? Do any of them remind students that it was an armored blitzkrieg from NV, not a peasant uprising which doomed Saigon in 1975?

I sometimes think that the biggest danger of war reporting is the journalist's selfish motive to be defeatist. Back in April i put it this way:

What is not often discussed is how professional ambitions make journalists defeatists. When wars go well, the uniformed military receives the praise. It is they who enter into history. We remember Nimitz and Patton, not the correspondents who wrote dispatches about the victories at Midway and Bastogne.

In contrast, Vietnam made the careers of David Halberstam, Seymour Hersh, and Neil Sheehan. Exposing military failure and atrocities makes the journalist the hero not the chronicler. It is a powerful temptation, one which could cause a reporter to lose proportion and distort the meaning of events. Yet this is not something that seems to get discussed much.

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