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What ever happened to ‘war correspondents’?

It may be a minor thing but why oh why do people who cover the world’s conflicts seem to have so little technical knowledge of the subject they cover? I saw an article in the Telegraph with an image captioned “This image made from amateur video released by the Shaam News Network, purports to show a Syrian military tank in Homs, Syria”… except it is clearly not a “tank”, it is a BMP… an infantry fighting vehicle.

This is not new. I spent much of the 1990’s in various parts of the former Yugoslavia and was often exasperated to grab a western newspaper in Zagreb and see pictures of “Croatian tanks”… which more often than not captured former Yugoslav OT M-60 APCs pressed into service by the Croatian, HVO or BiH armies… or even rather exotic Croatian improvised armoured personnel carriers (in effect armoured trucks with a machine gun). More recently I also recall a clip on CNN describing “British tanks” in Iraq that were in fact AS-90 artillery vehicles.

It seems odd to me that so few modern war correspondents are ex-military and thus, with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan, far too many of them cannot tell the difference between a Mauser and a javelin (and neither can their editors it seems). This is certainly why I find Michael Yon so refreshing… he actually understands what he is looking at up the sharp end.

14 comments to What ever happened to ‘war correspondents’?

  • Alisa

    What ever happened to ‘war correspondents’?

    They didn’t make it to a school of journalism?

  • Alisa

    The history of modern journalism in a nutshell…:

    [Walter Williams] began lobbying the Missouri General Assembly to establish a school of
    in 1895. Many newspapers objected saying that reporters should follow the traditional apprentice route for training. The state eventually approved it with launching in 1908 with Williams as dean.

    The school opened on September 14, 1908, at the urging of Joseph Pulitzer, following lobbying by Walter Williams, the editor of the Columbia (Missouri) Herald and a university curator. It was based in Switzler Hall. In 1895, the Missouri State Senate defeated a bill that requested a chair of journalism be established at the school (previously newspapers usually required apprenticeships). The Missouri Press Association began supporting the proposal in 1896.

    In 1899 three separate schools in Paris were established from the College Libre: l?Ecole des Hautes Etudes Sociales, l?Ecole des Hautes Etudes Internationales and l?Ecole de Journalisme. As with other grandes ecoles, the School of Journalism broadly prepared students for work in government administration, politics and economics, not exclusively for journalism. It awarded its first named journalism degree in 1910. Among its early professors were Emile Durkheim, founder of sociology; the historian Charles Seignobos, and the economist Charles Gide, who supported economic cooperatives in agriculture and for consumers.

    Gide was interested in reform projects as well, such as the Alliance
    d’Hygiene Sociale (Social Hygiene League, created in 1905)

    The two schools still seem to be competing for the proud title of ‘the first school for professional journalism in the world’.

  • Steven Groeneveld

    I would suggest that their lack of military knowledge is also the prime reason why so many of them get killed. Some years ago many journalists were complaining about the losses and postulated that journailsts were being deliberately targeted. I suggest that their imcompetence at not knowing when to get their head down and their arses out of a hot situation was the main reason.

    I remember reading a specific incident of a cameraman getting shot while trying to film a passing escorted convoy and I realised what probably happening was that he had one of these heavy video cameras that you have to heave up onto your shoulder to operate. To anyone manning a machine gun on the convoy escorts that would at first sight look exactly like someone lifting an RPG to his shoulder and aiming it directly at you. I know what my reaction would be.

  • llamas

    A recent pair of incidents makes it clear to me that both the journalists covering areas of strife and lawlessness, and their managers (editors?) have completely lost their minds.

    A little more than a year ago, US TV reporter Lara Logan – blonde, attractive, unquestionably Western – was most brutally attacked and assaulted by a huge mob of Arab men in Egypt’s Tahrir Square as the Egyptians ‘celebrated’ their overthrow of the Mubarak regime.

    This week, British film-maker Natasha Smith – brunette, attractive, unquestionably Western – was attacked in essentially-identical circumstances, in the same place, by another huge mob of Arab men, as Egyptians ‘celebrated’ the victory of an Islamist party in their elections. Apparently, violent assaults on Western female journalists are now a required part of any public celebration in Egypt.

    Ms Logan has plenty of experience in that part of the world. How she, and her editors, can have possibly thought that it was a good idea to send her to that place, at that time, is just beyond me.

    And yet, apparently, Ms Smith, and whoever sent her, did not learn the lessons that Ms Logan taught at such a high cost.

    I will now, of course, be accused of ‘blaming the victims’. Which is true. If you stick your head in the lion’s mouth, don’t be surprised if you get bit. And especially don’t be surprised if you saw the last person to put their head there get bit. Anyone with a scruple of common sense knows that in most Arab countries, women, and especially Western women, are considered to be second-class citizens who can be assaulted with impunity.

    As I scan the evening news, those covering the various conflicts around the world seem to be less and less competent to do so – either because of their obvious ignorance of the practical matters at hand, or, as we saw here, because their very presence is a danger to themselves and to the others around them. I suspect that the joint forces of political correctness and career aspirations have conspired to create this sorry state of affairs. The ‘reporting’ that we get from these folks can only be debased by their incapacities.

    Michael Yon is a national treasure. I would pity the Arab who went to attack him.



  • PersonFromPorlock

    I’m a long way from being a universal expert, but I do know a little about a few things and very often when I read a report involving one of those things, the reporter gets it wrong. It seems to me that the problem of a lack of technical accuracy in war reporting is just one example of journalists’ general lack of knowledge and editors’ carelessness about accuracy.

    The shorter version: modern journalism is the work of ignorant boobs whose job is to produce filler.

  • Alisa

    The shorter version: modern journalism is the work of ignorant boobs whose job is to produce filler push a certain political agenda.


  • Paul Marks

    I wrote a long comment – but I hit the wrong key (or something) and it vanished.

    So I will shorten things this time.

    Perry correct.

    Alisa correct.

    But it is the new (post 1960s educated) college educated journalists – not just the School of Journalism crowd.

    In Britain a classic way to spot them (before they start describing film of AK 47s, T72s and Mig aircraft as “American and British arms to Iraq) is to see whether they say “military aircraft” or “warplanes”.

    If they say “warplanes” they are likely to be the sort of people who point at Roman ruins and say the IDF destroyed these buildings.

    Basically modern British journalists (however much they hate the United States) are American-want-to-bes – but they want to be a particular type of American.

    The death-to-America, “Uncle Ho” (and Uncle Walter) loving type. They see themselves as the heros in Hollywood films.

    Fearless journalist exposes military lies and shows how Western policy is all about serving “big business”.

    And YES this sort have got into once conservative newspapers like the Daily Telegraph.

    They started out in the film and arts coverage – and then spread like a strange alien sickness (as the older generation of journalist died or retired).

    In the United States a recent victim was the Dallas Morning News.

    In Dallas there were two main newspapers – the Dallas Morning News and a leftist rival.

    The leftist rival went bankrupt – but many of its staff were hired by the Dallas Morning News. With predictable results. “But Mr Marks we still have a conservative editorial page…” oh you stupid……

    After all if someone insisted you mix food with excrement would you eat the mixture?

    No – neither would I.

    That is why I no longer subscribe to the Daily Telegraph.

  • lucklucky

    Journalism is the worst profession with worst persons. They are today priests.

  • Yes, “Whatever happened to journalism?” is the better question. The experience of discovering that the general media – newspapers in particular – were wrong on almost everything you personally have learned something – is so common to be barely worthy of comment at this point.

  • Jerry

    Some random thoughts –

    Llamas you are blaming the victim and so do I.
    There are some actions that simply are not wise. You don’t walk into the lions den wearing your pork chop overcoat or go swimming in the ocean wearing your ‘good-luck smoked ham’ ( Thank You Time Conway ). But if you DO take that type of action, then yes, it’s your own fault if you get eaten. These two women SHOULD have been warned at least. The so called ‘culture’ they were entering is NOT like anything they they were used to.

    Could it be that many ‘journalists’ ( I hate that term and am not sure why – just seems that ‘hack’ is more accurate !! ) are anti military ( gasp, noooo, you
    cry !! ) and really do not want to sully themselves by learning about the EVIL, wretched, human maiming / killing machines that the military uses and therefore prefer to remain aloof and pure ( as well as ignorant and stupid – but the hacks don’t see it that way ! )

    This is another example of the the ‘haystack full of needles’.
    One reads an article about a subject which the reader has some appreciable knowledge. In the story, the reader finds error after error leading to the conclusion that the writer is an ignorant boob ( or what ever derogatory term you prefer ) and so is his editor.
    The reader has just picked up a haystack and a needle has fallen out !
    Said reader now continues to read other articles and never ( usually ) stops to be dumbstruck by the concept that – EVERY OTHER STORY IN THE PUBLICATION / PROGRAM IS EXTREMELY LIKELY TO RIDDLED WITH THE SAME PERCENTAGE OF
    ERRORS !!!!!!!!!
    The only way a needle can fall out is if the haystack is FULL of needles !!
    Think about that the next time you are shaking your head at the ignorance / stupidity on display in whatever you happen to be reading or watching !

  • renminbi

    Jerry,that is called The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. The phenomenon does deserve a name. In other words Journalists don’t know their arse from their elbow about almost anything.

  • Hmm

    luckylucky states something that should be repeated long and loud…

    Jounalists ARE today’s priests.

    The MSM are the socialist self styled arbiters of “truth”, “morals”, “Rights” and “Law”. Their high priests are the intellectuals and luvvies, their priests are the journalists and their footsoldiers are the indoctrinated.

    Every time journalists spouts propaganda they should be called out for the PRIESTS that they are.

  • Jerry

    Thanks renminbi.

    I didn’t know it had a name but have certainly experienced the phenomenon !!!

  • Surellin

    Best example of ignorant war correspondents I have every seen was documented on The Dissident Frogman. AFP ran an article about an Iraqi babuska who said the rotten Americans shot up her house. She was photographed holding up a couple of bullets that, the article said, were extracted from her house. The very same bullets, see? They were UNFIRED. There’s the shell, there’s the bullet. Still connected. And this dreck passes for journalism? Frogman had a blast with that – he even made a tutorial for journalists called “Shooty, No Shooty!”.