April 17, 2003

War Story: Clark Kent Becomes Sgt. Slaughter

The Boston Phoenix says Boston Herald reporter Jules Crittenden, embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq, may have written the "most astounding media" story of the war - his account of how he jumped the shark from journalist to GI during the Third Infantry's entry in Baghdad:

"It was here I went over to the dark side. I spotted the silhouettes of several Iraqi soldiers looking at us from the shadows 20 feet to our left. I shouted, 'There's three of the (expletive) right there.''"

Moments later, three Iraqi soldiers were dead. "I saw one man's body splatter as the large caliber bullets ripped it up. The man behind him appeared to be rising, and was cut down by repeated bursts," Crittenden wrote.

Phoenix reporter Dan Kennedy raises the question whether the embedding program puts journalists at risk of becoming combatants. A couple of J-school deans sensibly answered that self-preservation comes first.

Kelly McBride, an ethics faculty member at the Poynter Institute, worries, however, that the Sgt. Slaughter-esque tenor of Crittenden's piece reveals his bias toward the soldiers he is accompanying.

What concerns McBride is what makes the story appealing to me - the emotion, the drama, the details, elements lacking in bland stretch for objectivity of most news stories.

In his story, Crittenden offers a pre-emptive response to critics:

"Some in our profession might think as a reporter and non-combatant, I was there only to observe. Now that I have assisted in the deaths of three human beings in the war I was sent to cover, I'm sure there are some people who will question my ethics, my objectivity, etc. I'll keep the argument short. Screw them, they weren't there. But they are welcome to join me next time if they care to test their professionalism."

The best reporting preserves moments in life that should not be forgotten. Crittenden's piece certainly qualifies.

UPDATE: MediaMinded also comments on Crittenden's story and points to a flap over Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Carl Prine's decision to pick up a gun during a battle "because we were ready to rock and roll." [ Read it ]

 Boston Herald Journalistic objectivity is casualty of firefight
 Boston Phoenix An embed’s tale from ‘the dark side’

Posted by Tim Porter at April 17, 2003 07:44 AM

Just to let you know -- I am NOT a reporter at the Trib. I work for the Pittsburgh City Paper and wrote a story about the embedded reporter who does: Carl Prine.

Posted by: Chris Potter on April 17, 2003 11:41 AM

It should be added that Mr. Potter's "story" largely lacked that niggling detail necessary of all journalistic efforts -- "fact." While heaped with what appears to be libel, and devoid of any real reporting AT THE SCENE OF THE EVENT, he nevertheless feels comfortable in concluding that I had somehow violated both the Geneva Convention and the Pentagon's embedding agreement. Such a day's work! Unfortunately for Mr. Potter, the Pentagon doesn't seem to share his view, despite a quote in the City Paper that seems to suggest this. Most reporters at serious newspapers would balk at printing a story that, at best, questions the ethics of a reporter in the field (actually, accuses him of war crimes!) without actually knowing what happened. Perhaps his unjustified, groundless attack on me is motivated by something other than his zeal for a good story? All I know is what actually happened in Iraq. Mr. Potter doesn't.

Posted by: Carl Prine on April 26, 2003 06:32 PM

I hate to quibble with someone who is "ready to rock and roll" -- which is the phrase I keyed on to illustrate pedestrian writing -- but my name is not Potter.

Posted by: Tim Porter on April 28, 2003 11:53 AM

I never wrote it!

Posted by: Carl Prine on April 28, 2003 06:55 PM
Post a comment