Second Thots

Sometimes one has to step back, take pause, and have some "second thots"

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Maybe NBC reporter should have allowed Marine to machine-gun the footage too

Reality TV appears to have become a phenomenon not strictly confined to the Australian Outback of Survivor, or the Donald Trump boardroom of The Apprentice. No. It's made its way into the war in Iraq with the sensationalized images of a US Marine apparently shooting an unarmed and wounded insurgent at point-blank range. If the NBC journalists on the scene had any good judgement, they might have allowed that same Marine to shoot a few rounds in the footage now stared at in horror from around the world.

Before hearing the predictable outcries that I'm condoning the actions of the Marine in question, or that I'm advocating the premeditated destruction of journalistic records, let me make myself perfectly clear. If the soldier in question did what it looks like he did, then he failed to conduct himself according to the laws of war and should be dealt with accordingly. Similarly, NBC and other media outlets have a right and a duty to report what is going on in Fallujah as well as other parts of Iraq. However, the problem here is one of context - a consideration NBC seems to have thrown out the window in its reporting of events in the heat of battle. They say they held the release of the video in order to provide the needed context. They sure did a bang-up job on that one, didn't they?

Since they failed so miserably, maybe I can try to do just a little bit better.

The problem with the airing of this footage is that it completely skews the perception people ought to have about American conduct in the war. While sitting in their living rooms, eating their breakfast cereals, and thinking about the upcoming gossip at work in the morning, people around the world have their lives interrupted by a scene where a soldier apparently blows a hole in the head of an unarmed and wounded prisoner of war. Of course this is going to evoke a reaction from people. How couldn't it? Frankly, it's one of the more disturbing pieces of footage coming out of the war. It is the violence of war shown close-up, with the overtones of war crimes and unjust occupations thrown in for good measure. But it hardly represents the conduct of the American soldier in Iraq. Kevin Sites, The NBC reporter on the scene, knows that. Yet he still decided to file his footage.

In a TV interview given shortly after the widespread release of the video, Sites made sure to tell viewers that the Marines in question had conducted themselves professionally throughout his stay with them, and that this particular incident was the exception to the rule. Well, if it was the exception to the rule, Mr. Sites, why did you do your best to make it look like it was the rule. That's the inevitable consequence of the release of the video tape. When people see it, they won't know about anything else. They won't care about what Marines do 99.9% of the time. They'll remember the initial shock of the images in the original footage long before any mitigating factors have had a chance to be reported or explained.

If this was a court, and the American invasion and occupation of Iraq were on trial, no judge in her right mind would allow for the showing of this tape in this way to any jury. At the very least she would provide context. In all likelihood, she would throw it out of her courtroom. Why? Because its sensationalistic value outweighs its evidentiary one. Any juror taking a look at that footage would go back to the deliberation room with an invalid piece of evidence to consider and weigh against other facts. They would do so with a horrifying war image which could only prejudice their outlook on the role of the military in Iraq. Yet it's this same impact on the perception of the war which NBC almost certainly created by showing the video to the jury that is world opinion.

Perhaps some of the motivation for the release of the footage lies with the unexpected ease with which US and Iraqi forces took Fallujah. Without any other bad news to report, this video sure made it certain that negative images of the war wouldn't escape the minds of an already skeptical and even fatigued American and world audience. At a time when coalition forces are most vulnerable to attack, having focused so many of their personnel and resources in the long overdue capturing of a rebellious city, the most the insurgents could muster was the storming of a few police stations in Mosul, as well as sporadic attacks in other parts of the country. The surprisingly futile insurgent reactions to the attack on Fallujah had to be replaced with something else, didn't it? Well, NBC found that something. Not only is a US Marine paying the price, but so too may the American efforts to implement democracy in a region so desperately in need of it.

Think about all the things that happen in war that don't get broadcast into the homes of millions worldwide. In fact, you don't even have to think that hard. All you have to do is watch the realistic war movie, Saving Private Ryan, where surrendering German soldiers are routinely machine-gunned without a second thought, and Tom Hanks and Tom Sizemore debate the summary execution of a captured German soldier in a display which makes the Geneva Convention look like an instruction manual no one reads before plugging in their new TV. What if these kinds of images had been sent around the world while the war was underway? What if the German people got that look at an army claiming liberation as the goal of its military adventures on their soil? Would perception of the Allied and American liberation of the Europe suffer as a result? Duh.

One of the latest stories out of Iraq is the apparent slaughter of aid worker Margaret Hassan, who was being held hostage by terrorists. If there is any ray of light in this awful tragedy it might be that it serves as a sorely needed balancing of perspectives on the war. Even before the announcement of her apparent death there was an outcry from Iraqis for her release. She was not a foreign invader. She was not an occupying force. She was someone who had lived in the country for thirty years providing aid and compassion to a troubled people in a troubled country. Yet terrorists killed her anyway. Perhaps this genuine act of premeditated murder might overshadow the actions of a misguided soldier in the fog of war. It's unfortunate, however, that it would take such a horrific development like Hassan's death to take people's minds off of a Marine's terrible confrontation with the tragic possibilities in battle. It shouldn't have to come to that.

The journalistic value of the current Marine footage is almost entirely eclipsed by its sensationalistic impact on viewers. One soldier killing one vulnerable insurgent cannot possibly be considered the face of this war. Yet look at all the headlines and all the pictures being shown around the world. That's the awfully easy conclusion one could draw from a quick viewing of the video tape - that American soldiers are barbaric occupiers preying upon innocent Iraqi freedom-fighters. Please.

If Kevin Sites was concerned about the conduct of this Marine in action, he certainly had many options available to him which didn't involve transmitting the shocking images worldwide. If he really wanted justice, he could have informed superior offices of the incident. Or he could have given them the tape. Even doing what he did, which was to send the tape to NBC, the people above him in his own chain of command could have exercised perhaps a greater degree of discretion before releasing the tape to the world. Apparently, two days of deliberating context was enough for them.

They could have discussed it with the military. They could have held it over the heads of the military, demanding an investigation at the threat of finally releasing the tape. But there is no indication that that's what they did. They looked at it, saw a sensational story, and ran with it. Screw the unfair perception it might create of the American soldier in Iraq.

Then again, like many other outlets in the media, screwing the American military is perhaps what they had in mind all along.

This is an excellent take in this incident. There's a few more things that must be mentioned.

As more details come out, it now appears the Marine was not even aware of the fact that there were any injured Iraqi's in the building. His own words on the video illustrate this clearly ("He's fucking faking he's dead. He's faking he's dead"). I mean come on! Why would he say those words if he thought the man was injured? Afterwards when ASKED by Sikes if he knew the man was injured he replied "I did not know that, sir. I did not know".

Furthermore, just one day prior, a soldier (I believe it was from the SAME unit) was killed by a booby-trapped Iraqi pretending to be dead or injured. Add to all of this the fact that the Marine was shot in the face the day before! That's a LOT of context not apparent when you simply watch the tape.

It seems to me he walked into the building, was startled by a "dead" insurgent suddenly moving a bit, and given all the events that day, and the day before, concluded it was a possible booby-trap. In a war where seconds mean the difference between life and death he reacts, and shoots.

Now he's being crucified. What possible good can come of this? How can the Marines who by all accounts achieved a spectacular victory, come away from this feeling like heroes when they KNOW that the public now has a different view. All because Kevin Sites thought of his own fame, fortune and career. Amazing.

This embedded reporter thing is useless. Just about everything can be used for propaganda against out troops. It has to stop.


Yes. The facts don't matter the second those images are plastered across the TV screens, newspaper front pages, and internet browsers of the world.

I can't believe NBC is actually telling everybody they delayed the releasing of the tape in order to provide the necessary context. Give me a break. People see that footage and all the context in the world ain't gonna make a darn of difference. Only time would have provided some context, as well as a full investigation into what really happened.

Let's face it. NBC put on a big show with those two days of 'context-searching'. They couldn't wait to release the tape, just like CBS couldn't wait to release Abu Ghraib, or even the pathetically forged documents.

I agree that Kevin Site might become a hero in the press for this. Wonder what the Marines think of him.

I don't agree about the banning of embedded reporters. We've seen some terrific footage from these rather heroic people. It's too bad the Kevin Sites of the bunch have to set this kind of precedent. It may in fact jeapordize the relationship journalists have with the armed forces in the future, if it can get any worse than it already might be.


Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?