Turn off those cameras

Published December 1, 2004 5:14PM (EST)

When the military introduced its "embedded reporter" program at the beginning of the Iraq war, some of the fiercest criticism came from the antiwar movement. The concern was that journalists attached to military units would sacrifice their objectivity in exchange for access.

Now there's a growing movement against the program -- but it's not coming from the antiwar lobby. The Army Times reports that in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., has asked that camera crews be barred from covering direct combat action on the front lines. Jones was also behind legislation produced two years ago for delaying by 24 hours the medias reporting of combat deaths.

"Mr. Secretary, I am requesting that you restrict media coverage of our military men and women engaged in direct combat," Jones writes. "There must be a balance between the need for media coverage and the difficult and complex missions being carried out by our brave troops. I pray that a Marine or Soldier in the future will not lose their life because they hesitated due to concerns that their action would be recorded by the media, reported out of context, and scrutinized by public opinion before all of the facts are presented."

The timing of Jones' letter is no coincidence. Though he does't mention the case specifically, it's hard to see his request as anything but a response to the recent case in which an NBC cameraman videotaped a U.S. Marine in a Fallujah mosque shooting what appeared to be a wounded, unarmed insurgent. On the tape, one Marine insisted that the Iraqi was "faking" being dead, and, after shooting him at close range, another remarked "he's dead now."

"It is unfair for our troops to be constantly monitored by cameras and have their every move recorded and subjected to public opinion based on a sound bite or two-minute video segment," Jones notes in his letter.

Some will no doubt view Jones' position as a denial of the possibility that American troops may commit war crimes. (Has Abu Ghraib so quickly faded from memory?) And in the age of digital video cameras, efforts toward further restriction may ultimately prove futile anyway -- plenty of unofficial combat footage is now in circulation on the Web.

It's also noteworthy that the movement to keep reporters on a tighter leash in Iraq is bipartisan. Others expressing concern at a Nov.17 congressional hearing included Vietnam veteran Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and Democrat Jim Marshall of Georgia, who said, "No news is better than news which is unfairly balanced toward the bad."

By Jeff Horwitz

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