"I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are. If I killed them all there would be news from Hell before breakfast."
~General William Tecumseh Sherman
Before I started training members of the Iraqi Army, I was the Intelligence Officer for an Infantry Battalion in one of the most violent sections of Baghdad as many of you know. One of the things that my section tried to promote throughout the Battalion was what we called "tactical patience." Tactical patience is giving a situation enough time to develop and unfold before trying to determine its meaning, significance and how to react to it. Tactical patience can sometimes require only a few seconds and sometimes require many hours.
Many times during operations in the TOC, we would get calls over the radio of enemy contact or hear explosions inside or outside the walls of the FOB. Immediately everyone would want to know what was going on. Reports often mixed with speculation in the early minutes following initial contact. Was it an IED, mortar, or rocket? Was that a drive by shooting or just the Iraqi Police squeezing off a few bursts from his AK-47 to clear traffic? This kind of confusion is commonly referred to as the "fog of battle."
As the intelligence adviser, the commander would come to me and ask me for my analysis of the situation and if it indicated a pattern or a new development. Many times, my first answer was that we didn't know enough yet. "We just got the initial report in, Sir, and the first report is always wrong." On several occasions, what was thought to be a rocket impact based upon hearing a nearby explosion and seeing the resulting plume of smoke, turned out to be merely a controlled detonation of captured explosives by the EOD team. This is why tactical patience is so important - so that we don't overreact to what we think something is. We take the time to find out what it really is.
I was thinking about this as I watched media hysteria over Hurricane Katrina. Predictions and reports of over 10,000 dead (turns out to be a little over 1,000), wide-spread murders and thuggery (a few instances), months to drain New Orleans (days), and hundreds of corpses at the convention center (4), turned out be either false or wildly exaggerated. Instead of pitching in to help, the media types fanned the flames of hysteria and panic, making the situation appear much worse than it really was. They report selectively. They sanctimoniously criticize the efforts of those actually trying to help. They stand on the sidelines with cameras and microphones when they should be grabbing buckets and shovels. After their viewership has come off of its peak, they pack up and leave while patting each other on the back for doing such a "great job" by "raising awareness."
They are doing the same thing with regard to our efforts here in Iraq. They disgust me. I know there are few good ones out there, but sadly, they are the exception, not the rule.