Smoke Signals

Koppel Says Yes to Military Censorship in Iraq

Koppel's panel found other subjects to deconstruct: the phenomenon of the Pentagon press conference, in which Donald Rumsfeld makes reporters look dumb while rarely disclosing any news of note; and the administration's strategy of using cable news sound bites to get its message across. With the exception of Colin Powell, Bush's people have no use for news analysts. "They don't want to come on 60 Minutes," said Koppel. "They don't want to come on Nightline. They really don't want our formula. They want to take it in small bite-size chunks and put it on CNN and Fox and MSNBC."

As proof of the administration's skill at media manipulation, Simon cited a recent poll which found that 66 percent of Americans believe Saddam Hussein had something to do with September 11—though no evidence of such links has emerged.

"I've never seen a group this methodical, this ruthless," said Hersh.

Media-military relations continue apace. On November 16, the Navy and Marine Corps launched a seven-day course for journalists who plan to travel with troops (not to Iraq, but to any combat situation that might arise). A Department of Defense spokesperson told the Voice that 350 to 400 journalists signed up for what she described as "basic military training, how to move under fire, how to put on camouflage."

Asked if the Pentagon has developed ground rules that prohibit live broadcasts from combat zones, the spokesperson confirmed that "there are certain things we are going to be concerned with that will hinder the immediate broadcast of stories." She said "operation managers" will make those decisions, depending on the situation.

For one thing, the military doesn't want the media sending satellite signals that might tell the enemy where the troops are. And then there is content. "If, during an interview, classified info comes out, we will ask [the media] not to run it," said the spokesperson. "If they go ahead and run it, would that jeopardize their access in their future?" She indicated that it would.

On the panel, Kifner explained a trade secret. "I've had very good experiences . . . with the military," he said, "but basically it's because the guys I was with were willing to bend the rules. . . . If you did it the official way, you would never do anything."

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