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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005





Part II

Transition to a New Campaign


Chapter 7
Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq

 

Working with Arab Media

PA Soldiers worked with media outlets from around the world, spending as much as 40 percent of their effort with Arab outlets. The Iraqi media were a critical component of the international press pool as both the fledgling and more experienced outlets established themselves in a new era of free press and free speech in Iraq. Professional Arab journalists received the same access and consideration as American or other international journalists, including the opportunity to embed with American forces.140 Some Arab outlets such as Al Jazeera earned a reputation for being biased and, because they seemed to have a propensity for being in the area when an insurgent attack occurred, were sometimes suspected of colluding with the anti-Iraqi enemy.141 Colonel Morgenthaler and her PA team made a concerted effort to track false stories about the Coalition in the Arab media and subsequently approached representatives from Al Jazeera, Al Iraqia, and Al Arabiya to review their findings. They pointed out the stories containing lies or partial truths, and they identified the correct accounts based on factual reporting as amounting to only 5 percent of the total. Morgenthaler and her team enjoyed some short-term wins, but no long-term success.142 However, Colonel Darley found that the journalists from Al Jazeera also covered good news stories. He noted, “We would send out these media releases to various things like school openings or power station openings and that sort of thing and you could count on Al Jazeera being there.”143

In Baghdad, Colonel Baker, a brigade commander in the 1st AD, viewed the Arab press as important to the success of his brigade and developed a successful working relationship with journalists from across the Arab community. To engage the Arab press, Baker developed the biweekly brigade-level news huddle.144 This roundtable meeting met every 2 weeks at his headquarters. In preparation for the meeting, one of Baker’s PAOs drafted talking points and a speech that began each meeting. Then Baker opened the floor to questions from the press.145 In an effort to focus the brigade’s hard work and to determine where the Iraqis received their news, the brigade conducted public opinion surveys and discovered which newspapers Iraqi citizens read and which television programs they watched.146 Baker additionally hired two Iraqis to be the brigade’s press agents, recalling, “Their main jobs were to facilitate attendance at our press roundtables and to promote the publication of our messages.”147 The press agents visited Arab newspapers and invited Arab reporters to the roundtables. Because of the work of these two Iraqis, Baker had from 8 to 10 newspaper reporters, to include representatives from Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, and one of the Lebanese satellite television stations, regularly attending the roundtable meetings. After the roundtable, Baker usually made himself available for offline interviews with Arab satellite stations.148

Baker and the brigade also developed a good working relationship with Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. As noted earlier, both stations suffered from a bad reputation inside the Coalition because of their biased reporting, but Baker contended, “The fact is they report to the audience we need to influence, so why not develop a rapport with them so that maybe we can get some of our messages across to the Iraqi public?”149 Initially, when Al Jazeera reporters came to the brigade’s press huddles, they were distant. However, according to Baker, “After three or four meetings they began warming up to us and later, they became just as friendly as any of the other reporters attending.”150 Baker believed if a unit was willing to put some effort into it, it was possible to develop a working relationship with almost any reporter just as long as the units are honest, adding that the Arab media “cannot help but respect us for that and, much of the time, respect is rewarded with fairer and more balanced news accounts because reporters know they can trust what we are saying.”151 According to Baker, it would have been a mistake not to engage Al Jazeera and other Arab media simply because of their biased reporting. He argued, “We cannot just censor them, deny them access, or fail to respect them because, ultimately, they talk to Arab peoples in their own language and are the most likely to be believed. Not to engage them or work with them is to miss tactical and strategic opportunities.”152


Chapter 7. Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq





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