Thursday, March 22, 2007

Michael Yon from Iraq: Threatened..... UPDATED a General. Good grief! You'd think his biggest concern would be an IED or sniper fire, but no. Here's what's going on:

The great difficulty in filing stories from Iraq is leading me to experiment. We are into the fifth year of the war Iraq, yet no comprehensive system exists to help media communicate to people at home. Raw information only trickles back from Iraq because the flow is strangled. That we are into the fifth year of war here, yet there is no filing center on even the larger bases is telling. Telling, perhaps, that information flow to America has never been a priority, or perhaps the priority has been to squelch it. The system of elaborate excuses is the only part of it all that is well-refined.

There is no joy in being here. Nothing to laugh about. For every drop of information conveyed, a bucket is spilled. Folks say to me, “I hope you are saving all that for a book when you get back.” Fact is, now is the time that the information can be most important.


But considering all the planning, organization, logistics and resources that went in to putting up what amounts to a food court in a surburban mall, how hard would it be, really, for there to be a clean, well-lit press trailer, open 24-7, with some desks, chairs and lockers, wired for the internet? Not on every base, but on enough of them so that stories from everywhere else could get out on a regular basis. For a military that is the first to gripe about not getting enough press–in a kind of war where the press can determine the outcome–it seems fairly obvious that the first step would be to at least make sure there is a place for the press to work. If this were a few months into this war, I could understand it, but to not even be at square one this far in?

A general emailed in the past 24 hours threatening to kick me out. The first time the Army threatened to kick me out was in late 2005, just after I published a dispatch called “Gates of Fire.” Some of the senior level public affairs people who’d been upset by “Proximity Delays” were looking ever since for a reason to kick me out and they wanted to use “Gates of Fire” as a catapult. In the events described in that dispatch, I broke some rules by, for instance, firing a weapon during combat when some of our soldiers were fighting fairly close quarters and one was wounded and still under enemy fire. That’s right. I’m not sure what message the senior level public affairs people thought that would convey had they succeeded, (which they didn’t) but it was clear to me what they valued most. They want the press on a short leash, even at the expense of the life of a soldier.
Argh! This man is absolutely vital to getting information on the other, MORE IMPORTANT, front of the war. If Americans lose heart, there is no soldier in Iraq for long. Guys like Michael Yon and Bill Roggio help inform and encourage Americans. They give a soldiers point-of-view, they don't candy-coat and they're fair. What more would a General want?

Austin Bay, a fellow Houstonian (although, technically I'm a Woodlands resident--close enough), says this:
This is stupid. Michael Yon and Bill Roggio are the best out there. Telling Michael Yon to exit the theater is the WWII equivalent of telling Ernie Pyle to quit filing dispatches.

Everyone knows the PAO system has never been much more than mediocre — I’ve met some very smart public affairs officers and non-coms, but the system is inadequate, at times inept. Now Yon says someone wants to kick him out of Iraq. Tut. At a Pentagon lunch last fall General Pace mentioned to me the importance of milblogs. I then told him the word circulating the blogosphere was that the Army wanted to limit milblogs. Yes, there is an OPSEC argument, but read the milblogs. The soldiers posting know about OPSEC. Pace told me he would look into the rumor. No, I never heard back. I suggest that General Pace look into this report from Yon.
Winning in Iraq is crucial, but the war will be lost if it's lost at home. The reporters, especially the independent blog-journalists, in Iraq are critical to winning the war at home. They need to be helped to do their job.

[All emphasis my own.]

UPDATE: More from Michael. Caught between watching his gear, getting moved to cots in rooms with no privacy, being denied a desk and adequate internet connections, Michael is in Iraq but can't exactly write from Iraq in these conditions.

General Petreaus are you reading what's happening in your command?

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