Friday, October 5, 2007

Wartime news reporting

Reading wartime news reports well after the fact can be enlightening. Naturally, the reporters and editors do not have the information that we can have access to many years later. However, it can reveal what they are good at, and what they are not so good at.

Wartime news reporting is exceptionally accurate at reporting the politics of the day. Even during peacetime, reporting is VERY good at this. After all, the information is public knowledge. Reporting also is very talented at political analysis. Almost everything that you see/hear/read has a heavy filter through a political view.

Wartime news reporting is good at reporting friendly losses. Far less information is available to report on in the larger wars. In the smaller conflicts and battles, this information tends to be far more numerous and accurate. Wartime reporting is inconsistent when reporting enemy losses. In low intensity wars, reporting tends to be more accurate. In larger affairs, it is off the mark a great deal more often.

Wartime reporting fails miserably when doing analysis, other than through a political outlook. A classic example is the Washington Post dated October, 15, 1943. The political statements and analysis are first-rate. Militarily speaking, it would appear that although the allied forces were doing well in some areas, the overall situation is not all that bright. I can go into considerable detail here, but at this stage in the war, the allies were so dominate that it is difficult for me to understand how they could have been so far off. Yes, I have much more information that they were denied.

During the Vietnam War, I remember hearing the argument that the U.S. could not win because we controlled the cities, and the VC (Viet Cong) and the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) controlled the countryside. We were contesting the countryside, but we would only control small parts for a limited period. In Iraq today, is the situation not reversed? For many years now, overall reporting has been indicating that the U.S. can not win in Iraq. Something is missing here. Good reasons exist as to why the war has evolved the way that they have in both cases. These are missed by wartime reporting. I have yet to see it, and I am looking.

The ‘Tet’ offensive is another good example. In 1968, North Vietnam launched an offensive. It was an attempt at showing how far they had come. They committed many of the VC cadres that had been painfully built up over 10 years. At the same time, the NVA committed 4 divisions in a conventional battle. It was a military disaster for them. The 4 divisions were wiped out, as were many of the VC cadres. Yet reporting indicated this as being a stunning defeat for the U.S. Politically, this was the case. Militarily, reporting got it exactly opposite. A more recent example:

Remember the 30 day war between Israel and Hezbollah last summer? The news that I was watching and reading reported that Israel lost and Hezbollah won BIG-TIME. (Exception: The Wall Street Journal was careful to point out that the views were political in nature.) Yes, on the political front, this was the case. Looking at it from a different view leads me to question this. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) numbers more than 150,000 men and women. (I am guessing to a limited degree here.) All the estimates of Hezbollah that I have seen indicate a number of between 7000 and 7500 men in Lebanon. (Combatants) Loss of life for the two combatants was published at 158 lost for Israel and around 2000 to 2200 lost for Hezbollah. In other words, Israel lost about .1% of its combat strength. Hezbollah lost somewhere around 25%. Many well-trained combat units have broken and fled the field in disorder after suffering far fewer losses than 25%. Hezbollah is far from being a well trained organization. At best, morale took a major hit. Hezbollah got hurt. BAD. Even if figures are off quite a bit, it will take them a year or more to recover. Please note how seldom they have been appearing in the news over the past year. The overall point is that wartime news reporting is really bad at military analysis. The reporters and editors have very little to absolutely no understanding of the warfare that they are covering.

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