- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Can our troops get hit by friendly fire from journalists? The World War II motto "Loose lips sink ships" might get lost in the din of the 24/7 news cycle today.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld waxed nostalgic about those bygone days when Americans got an occasional overview of war developments rather than a daily barrage.
"No TV," Mr. Rumsfeld said yesterday. "There was radio, and people went to the movies and saw a newsreel a summary of the week's events. Now we're seeing every second."
In an ideal world, networks scrupulously avoid security breaches, withholding dispatches that could reveal troop movements or other sensitive information. But breakneck pace and keen competition might undermine these standards.
CNN says no.
"Nobody wants to compromise operational security in this shop or anywhere else," Kathryn Kross, the network's Washington bureau chief, said yesterday.
"But do we go to the Pentagon and ask if we can run something? No. We do respect the Pentagon's side of things," she said.
If CNN correspondents become privy to sensitive information, decisions about airing it are made "in the field" between correspondents and their military contacts.
Meanwhile, those practical newsreels of yesteryear have given way to a melange of live footage, splashy roundups and hard news eked out with analysis. Mr. Rumsfeld has taken to calling this coverage "slices" of Iraq action not necessarily inaccurate, he said, but not realistic either. There are risks involved as well.
"I can't manage what civilians and retired military say. But if they keep saying it long enough, people will believe it," Mr. Rumsfeld said, referring to TV analysts who speculate on the length of the war, its cost or its dangers.
And some members of the press are basing their questions on these network analyses.
"Analysts say what they say and they're all over the box," Mr. Rumsfeld observed, adding that no official had predicted when the war would end, and that he trusted Americans to watch the coverage and "judge for themselves."
Some may pine for the heartfelt reporting style of World War II's Ernie Pyle, when the government, the press and Hollywood worked in patriotic concert with one another. But for better or worse, "gotcha" journalism has changed the face of news, including wartime coverage. Is the soldier or the story more important?
CBS' Mike Wallace voted for the story in a 1989 PBS interview when asked whether he had "a higher duty as an American citizen to save the lives of soldiers rather than the journalistic ethic of reporting fact."
In six days of Iraq coverage, embedded TV correspondents have yet to stud their stories with operational plans or troop whereabouts. They don't need to. The action is dramatic enough without it.
Meanwhile, Americans are awash in war coverage, according to a Pew Research Center poll of 1,500 adults taken March 20-24 and released yesterday. With war under way, 89 percent of the respondents said TV was their main news source; 79 percent gave press coverage favorable marks.
Americans may be getting tougher, too: 59 percent said that watching TV coverage of the war made them "feel sad." The figure was 92 percent in the days after the September 11 attacks and 74 percent during the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Feelings of fright also have lessened, the poll found.
"There are signs, however, that as the war continues and casualties mount, the psychological toll may grow," the poll predicts.

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