- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

CAMP AS SALIYA, Qatar Foreign television and print reporters are being wooed by the Americans at the media center here even if, or especially if, they come from countries opposed to the war.
For allied commander Gen. Tommy Franks' media strategist, the more hostile the reporters' country or network is, the more important it is to keep feeding the appetite for information.
"From the beginning, we decided to make special accommodation for the foreign media," said Jim Wilkinson, the director of strategic communications and formerly President Bush's deputy communications director. "For example, we deliberately encourage the Arab media to ask questions."
The idea of letting critics have their opportunity is a novel approach among the typically straight-laced military.
New thinking has permeated the entire war effort, which has introduced the world to "effects-based warfare," and it seems the psychological operations, or "psy-ops," specialists direct their efforts not only at the enemy but also at the media.
Mr. Wilkinson, who in his previous job was involved in designing message-of-the-day backdrops for Mr. Bush's speaking events to sharpen his leadership image, says restricting foreign or hostile media would have been self-defeating.
"This will be the most covered war in history," Mr. Wilkinson told The Washington Times in an interview. "There is no longer a domestic U.S. news cycle. It's 24 hours, and international reporters have a large effect on media all across America. For example, if a big foreign network runs a story, it will be in America very soon."
Mr. Wilkinson said he is aware that some foreign journalists may be seeking out negative angles, but that doesn't lead to a restrictive backlash.
"When you start excluding journalists, you start losing," he said. "War is a frightening activity for all people and easily misunderstood, so the more info you can discuss with as many reporters as possible, the more it helps our cause."
In any case, he said, coverage by foreign media these days also affects what events the U.S. media covers and how they report them.
This approach appears to have taken some of the wind out of critics' sails, said Luc Hermann, a documentary filmmaker who also is doing live shots from here for French satellite channel Canal Plus.
He is making a documentary for screening in France next month on how the military is dealing with the media.
"To tell the truth, I never expected the American forces would be as responsive as they have been to foreign non-coalition journalists. I believe the spin doctors have done a very smart job, to be talking to those of us who come from countries opposing the war," Mr. Hermann said.
He said that he often looked for angles that criticized the war effort.
For example, Mr. Hermann said he reported to his French viewers that the allies had failed to find weapons of mass destruction, had understated civilian casualties and damage, and had been fuzzy on details of military reverses. But he also said he would have been harsher if he had been cold-shouldered.
Not all foreign journalists are entirely happy with the media service so far. They were livid for days as were almost all journalists that the information flow from Central Command was minimal and briefings nonexistent for the first 72 hours of the conflict.
Starved of news, the journalists were reduced to interviewing one another as when a gaggle of cameramen pounced on a reporter returning from a briefing for Australians-only given on Day 2 by the Australian commander.
They demanded not only to film the reporter telling them what the commander had said, but also asked him to confirm that the Americans had pressured the Australians to restrict the briefing. It was a nice angle but untrue.
British officials tend to be more willing to part with information and analysis, making them journalists' favorites. The Australians are seen as the least cooperative.
"I don't care what the rest of the world's media thinks or wants," said one Australian media officer. "I care what gets shown or read back home."
When a bang was heard during Day 3, journalists grabbed cameras and notebooks, and rushed outside. They saw a plume of smoke in the distance, beyond the camp perimeter, and reports went out worldwide of an apparent terrorist attack on the base.
The media chief told reporters within half an hour that the smoke had come from a car that was being demolished in a controlled explosion at an industrial plant nearby. End of story?
Not quite.
"What kind of car?" persisted an earnest reporter.

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