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Stephen Kaus

Stephen Kaus

Posted: January 8, 2006 09:34 PM

Military Blogger Bill Roggio Swiftboats the Washington Post


Military blogger Bill Roggio recently has been getting Internet mileage by flogging the Washington Post for maligning him about his work as an embedded blogger in Iraq. Great, except that Roggio is wrong and the Post is right.

Roggio is good at this sort of campaign. He helped orchestrate the right wing campaign to oust CNN Chief News Executive, Eason Jordon over his alleged comments that the military was targeting journalists. Here, Roggio has taken an essentially accurate Washington Post story about U.S. military information operations, that includes an account of his embedded work on the frontlines in Iraq, into an Internet firestorm.

Roggio gets a twofer: sliming the Post and keeping his buoyant reporting on the U.S. military in the limelight. Various other sites have reflexively piled on and the Post has even corrected three incidental points. It is not for nothing that Roggio has maintained a relationship with Machiavelli expert and super neo-con Michael Leeden.

The December 26, 2005 Post article, entitled "Bloggers, Money Now Weapons In Information War," tells of the military's efforts to obtain more favorable coverage of its efforts by (1) paying for favorable stories in Iraq and, (2) inviting favorably inclined bloggers to embed and report.

Roggio's reporting was noticed by the Marines, he was invited to embed, and he posted numerous reports from the frontlines on his website. Roggio's myopically optimistic dispatches praise the work of the American military, often by quoting official accounts, give some genuinely interesting detail on the casualties and tactics of the insurgency and offer anecdotal evidence of success. Roggio's basic view is that the military is gradually winning the favor of the Iraqi people as the insurgents alienate citizens with their violent and destructive acts.

But it is not Roggio's reporting that has been attracting attention since Christmas; it is his complaint that the Post article was inaccurate and slanted.

The problem is that, except for what Roggio himself has called "minor factual errors," at least one of which was quoted from Roggio himself, the Post article was true. Roggio's three articles setting out his beefs are a little disorganized and lacking in detail, but the following seem to be his major grievances:

1. Association with Military Information Operations. According to Roggio, the "real flaw of the article" was the "association between my embed and any military information operation ... ." In other words, he objects to the inclusion of his story with accounts of the military buying favorable press in Iraq. Roggio is railing against something that is not in the Post article. The article is about the military pushback against what it believes to be inaccurate and incomplete coverage of its efforts, both in Iraq and in the U.S. Part of this was inviting Roggio to embed because it was impressed by its coverage. Part of it was paying for favorable stories in Iraq. The point was that the U.S. military is attempting to control its own publicity, not that Roggio was paying for stories on Iraqi TV.

The Post quotes an e-mail from Roggio as saying, "I was disenchanted with the reporting on the war in Iraq and the greater war on terror and felt there was much to the conflict that was missed. What is often seen as an attempt at balanced reporting results in underreporting of the military's success and strategy and an overemphasis on the strategically minor success of the jihadists or insurgents." Roggio does not question this quote, which shows that his intent was to favorably portray the U.S. military.

As for the military's motivation in inviting Roggio, the Post quotes Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool, public affairs officer for the Ramadi based 2nd Marine Division, as saying that the Marines invited Roggio to cover their operations and that "[a] thorough review of his work was taken into account before authorizing the embed." Presumably, the review was for content, not grammar. Roggio does not deny any of this either and he admits it in a Hugh Hewitt interview that is listed under December 26th on this page.

There is no implication that the military paid Roggio, although Roggio acts like there is. The article states that Roggio "raised more than $30,000 from his online readers to pay for airfare, technical equipment and body armor." That is exactly Roggio's version of events also.

2. A Blogger is Embedded. In a January 3, 2006 National Review article, Roggio says that "perhaps the most egregious error" is that the Post implied that Roggio's media accreditation was "any different from that of any other reporter who has been embedded, including those at The Washington Post." Roggio cannot be so blinkered as to really believe this. The point of the article is that Roggio is a blogger whom the military has invited in a conscious effort to have its side told, not an MSM reporter selected on objective journalistic merit. If the embed process from there on out is identical, as Roggio claims, that is news.

3. Whose Credentials. Most audaciously, Roggio complains that the Post said he was accredited by the American Enterprise Institute, home of his pal Leeden, while in fact he was accredited by the Weekly Standard, for which he wrote exactly one article, and a Canadian radio show. The Post did indeed rely on a questionable source for this information: Roggio himself!

In his October 31, 2005 blog post, Roggio stated

In the three days since I announced my plans to travel to Iraq and embed with RCT-2 in Anbar province, the response has been phenomenal. I have received media credentials, thanks to Dr. Michael Ledeen and the American Enterprise Institute. ... The current plan is to leave for Iraq on November 19th.

Apparently, the Post's error was not fact checking for errors in Roggio's own blog!

4. Semantic Issues. Roggio complains that he was referred to as a "retired soldier," when he is really only a "former soldier" because he only served for four years active duty and two in the National Guard. Fair enough, but hardly a "drive by shooting" of Roggio, as his claque is claiming. Apparently, it is also true that while the article says that Roggio was still in Iraq, he actually had returned home a week earlier. Roggio does not give any details on how the reporter, with whom Roggio communicated by e-mail from Iraq, should have known this, especially over Christmas weekend.

The Post article is basically an accurate portrayal of the military's information operations and Roggio's role in them. If the Post, like John Kerry before it, won't defend itself, someone else has to do it.

Leeden-Roggio link from Raw Story

Update I should make clear that Roggio's reporting and blogging make a valuable contribution and I take my hat off to his courage. It is the attacks on the Post that are unwarranted.

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