by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Boca Raton, Fla.
October 15, 2005
NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS FOR SOLDIER FAMILIES
BOCA RATON, Fla., Oct. 15, 2005 -- In reading some of the blogs of friends and families of troops in Iraq, I noticed consternation lately about the lack of phone calls from the troops in recent weeks, and paucity of news coverage outside of Baghdad.
This was my reply to them:
To my new extended family:
I need to get serious for a minute, because I detect lots of consternation about lack of phone calls, lack of news coverage, etc. I served as a UPI news correspondent for five years, worked for ABC-TV and others, and was part of a fact-finding mission a few years back in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Let me try to explain modern news coverage to you this way:
Neil Rogers, the AM radio shock-jock in Miami, has more listeners in South Florida on any single midday Monday through Friday than Larry King's CNN show has in most hours each night. Especially those of you on the West Coast or Alaska, watch CNN and see how Larry King is repeated one, two, or even three times during the night.
This tells you that news budgets are down; foreign news coverage and foreign news bureaus rely mostly on non-staff "stringers." Producers and assignment editors brought up on "Inside Edition," "E!," and "Oprah" have no knowledge of hard news.
Constitutional elections this weekend will send people "in-country" from the Today Show, Nightline, Fox News for the first time in months. They will do "stand-uppers" from a terrace or a rooftop in Baghdad's secured Green Zone, and rely upon Iraqi "stringers" - who may or may not be reliable - to shoot footage outside the capital. Their coverage will be superficial and vivid. "If it bleeds it leads," is the tv mantra that puts auto crashes and axe-murderers on the local evening news ahead of a blizzard.
By the end of next week, there will be very little war coverage again.
Some of the very, very few U.S.-based (although many are actually Canadians, Brits and Aussies for security reasons) reporters in Iraq are now in Kashmir, Pakistan, and India on earthquake coverage. Before that, the endless story was the 65-year-old black man beaten up by policemen in New Orleans; and the hurricanes; and the poor girl who apparently raped and killed in Aruba - remember all Aruba, all the time? All o that came from the cable networks.
From a logistical point of view, outside the largest cities - Baghdad, Mosul, Basra - we have learned definitively that actual acceptance or use of even the best phone cards in the world (ATT, Sprint, etc.) is what the kids call a "sketchy" affair. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't.
Extremely expensive and often restricted or off-limits satellite phones will on rare occasions garner a quick phone call. Savvy soldiers, familiar with scrounging what they need, will often scrounge a phone call or email line on a laptop from a news crew, NGO (non governmental organization), or govenment official.
Most reporters, unless they have prior wartime service records, or are very savvy combat correspondents, couldn't tell the difference between Airborne, Cavalry or Engineers. Many don't even know how to read ranks or know the chain of command. They are told to get a story and then get out.
All of what I've said is not true in other countries. The CBC in Canada and major Canadian newspapers have bureaus and correspondents following war news. The United Kingdom, dissent aside, covers British troops in Basra much more closely than the U.S. press covers its own.
It will cost you a few bucks, but each morning at 5:30 a.m. the Financial Times of London is on my front lawn. You can get same day delivery in most cities, and next day anywhere else in the United States. It is the premier business and financial newspaper in the world but has a healthy mix of foreign news and commentary, from both American and overseas perspectives.
If you are looking for some general perspectives of the war from objective sources, you will find something probably two or three times a week. If you expect to find minutiae about a squad in Alpha or Bravo Company, you will be disappointed. You can subscribe to their online edition or print edition at http://www.ft.com.
As for radio, you can buy a very good 12-band shortwave radio in any Radio Shack for under $50. Night reception will be better than daytime, and BBC, Canada's CBC, the German, Dutch, Australian and other overseas radio services will probably give you coverage unheard elsewhere. Be aware that some coverage from therse networks comes with a very apparent antiwar agenda.
In the age of deregulation and 100,000KW megastations, Cuban, Chinese government and the religion-based networks all shape what they call "news" into their own political or religious image. But there is plenty of English language world coverage out there. Beware, too, of rehearsed coverage of the kind that President Bush engaged in with some of our troops in Iraq earlier this week. It's sad that he doesn't trust his own troops enough to let them speak freely.
And try not to worry - but as parents, of course, we will.
American Reporter Correspondent Mark Scheinbaum is a veteran journalist now working as chief economist for Kaplan & Co., in Boca Raton, Fla.