The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Army Should Reconsider Censoring Stars & Stripes

Yesterday, Stars & Stripes ran a story about the Army's refusal to embed reporter Heath Druzin with the 1st Cavalry Division in Mosul. Druzin had previously been embedded with another unit in Mosul.

Stripes, an independent newspaper partially funded by the military, accused the Army of censoring their reporter based on apparent dissatisfaction with past coverage.

As a writer, Stripes' accusation is serious to me and one that the Army must address. I was particularly disturbed at the tired talking point provided by an Army PAO attacking Druzin's journalistic integrity. Here's a sample from the Stripes' story:

"Officials said Stripes reporter Heath Druzin, who covered operations of the division’s 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in February and March, would not be permitted to rejoin the unit for another reporting tour because, among other things, he wrote in a March 8 story that many Iraqi residents of Mosul would like the American soldiers to leave and hand over security tasks to Iraqi forces.

"'Despite the opportunity to visit areas of the city where Iraqi Army leaders, soldiers, national police and Iraqi police displayed commitment to partnership, Mr. Druzin refused to highlight any of this news,' Major Ramona Bellard, a public affairs officer, wrote in denying Druzin’s embed request."

Aren't we past this kind of trite accusation? I've heard this "positive news" spin far too many times since 2003--I may even be guilty of reiterating the assertion from time to time while I served in Iraq--but the assessment of Druzin's work is completely off base.

For some perspective, I took a look at the March 8 story in question. Interestingly enough, I found two stories filed by Druzin on that day--one critically assessing the tenuous security situation in the Mosul, the other highlighting the positive work of the battalion.

To me, it looked as though Druzin made a concerted effort in his coverage to capture the whole story. In fact, he quoted a U.S. soldier in the security story on why the residents of Mosul clearly preferred for the Americans to leave.

While this first story certainly painted a grim picture of the last insurgent hotbed in Iraq, it appears to be factual journalism and it does not malign the Army in any way. Moreover, the second story carefully chronicled the efforts of the soldiers patrolling Mosul and the marked improvements in the war-torn city. Both stories clearly refute the Army's assertion that Druzin refused to cover the collaboration among Iraqi and American forces.

After reading through Druzin's body of work from his previous assignment in Mosul, it's easy to see why Stripes is eager to send him back. He clearly knows the lay of the land and has the ability to track down the most accurate and compelling details. Hopefully, the Army will reconsider its position as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw from Iraq's major cities at the end of the month. Mosul is certainly a critical piece of this story, and it would be a disservice to the readers of Stars & Stripes for a green reporter to cover it.

Stripes is in a difficult position with the military. The publication has the duty to report independently to members of the U.S. military deployed overseas. However, Stripes has repeatedly faced scrutiny over their ethical responsibilities and their ties to the Pentagon. In light of this, reporting from within the pages of Stripes is usually regarded as reputable within the military community and beyond. It would be a shame to see a short-sighted decision on the part of the Army sully that reputation.

-Ryan

(The contents above strictly reflect the opinion of Ryan Gallucci as a contributor to American Veteran magazine. They do not reflect the official stance of the AMVETS organization. Photo: Army Spc. Rodney Davidson reads a copy of Stars & Stripes while deployed to Iraq in 2005. Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Reynaldo Ramon, released.)

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