24 Jun 2007

The Marine Corps and the Press

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Paul von Zeibauer, writing in the New York Times’ Week in Review, was shocked… shocked to discover that the USMC had issued a memorandum of instructions on how to answer leading questions from the Press without inadvertently assisting them in furthering their own agenda, featuring “a searing view of American journalists conspiring to undermine the war effort.”

One Tim McGirk, a reporter for Time magazine, in January 2006, sent a series of questions to the Second Marine Division in Haditha by email.

Excerpts of the memo:

McGirk: How many marines were killed and wounded in the I.E.D. attack that morning?

Memo: If it bleeds, it leads. This question is McGirk’s attempt to get good bloody gouge on the situation. He will most likely use the information he gains from this answer as an attention gainer.

McGirk: Were there any officers?

Memo: By asking if there was an officer on scene the reporter may be trying to identify a point of blame for lack of judgment. If there was an officer involved, then he may be able to have his My Lai massacre pinned on that officer’s shoulders. …

In the reporter’s eyes, military officers may represent the U.S. government and enlisted marines may represent the American People. Given the current political climate in the U.S. at this time concerning the Iraq war and the current administration’s conduct of the war, the reporter would most likely seek to discredit the U.S. government (one of our officers) and expose victimization of the American people by the hand of the government (the enlisted marines under the haphazard command of our “rogue officer.”) …

One common tactic used by reporters is to spin a story in such a way that it is easily recognized and remembered by the general population through its association with an event that the general population is familiar with or can relate to. For example, McGirk’s story will sell if it can be spun as “Iraq’s My Lai massacre.” …

McGirk: How many marines were involved in the killings?

Memo: First off, we don’t know what you’re talking about when you say “killings.” One of our squads reinforced by a squad of Iraqi Army soldiers were engaged by an enemy initiated ambush on the 19th that killed one American marine and seriously injured two others. We will not justify that question with a response. Theme: Legitimate engagement: we will not acknowledge this reporter’s attempt to stain the engagement with the misnomer “killings.”

McGirk: Were there any weapons found during these house raids — or terrorists — where the killings occurred?

Memo: Again, you are showing yourself to be uneducated in the world of contemporary insurgent combat. The subject about which we are speaking was a legitimate engagement initiated by the enemy. …

McGirk: Is there any investigation ongoing into these civilian deaths, and if so have any marines been formally charged?

Memo: No, the engagement was bona fide combat action. … By asking this question, McGirk is assuming the engagement was a LOAC [Law of Armed Conflict] violation and that by asking about investigations, he may spurn a reaction from the command that will initiate an investigation.

McGirk: Are the marines in this unit still serving in Haditha?

Memo: Yes, we are still fighting terrorists of Al Qaida in Iraq in Haditha. (“Fighting terrorists associated with Al Qaida” is stronger language than “serving.” The American people will side more with someone actively fighting a terrorist organization that is tied to 9/11 than with someone who is idly “serving,” like in a way one “serves” a casserole. It’s semantics, but in reporting and journalism, words spin the story.)

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