Bing West's "the strongest tribe"
Back to Iraq- Norley and the Sheiks

Salon author replies about his lame hit piece

I received a response from Alex Koppelman, who wrote the piece flinging poo at the VFF Back to Iraq embed trip. His answers are a patchwork of quibbles and evasions that attempt to say that he didn't actually state that the embeds were political operatives being given a free ride by the administration and carrying water for W and McCain. No he only raised the possibility that this could be the case. Well I can throw a BS flag on that. He smeared VFF, all the brave folks who are now in Iraq and Blackfive by implying that was the case, even if he thinks he used enough weasel words to cover his ass. Now I understand why his editor wouldn't let him on a live call with me. I would have ripped him a new one and sent him home crying. Anyhow, as I promised here are his responses in full.

You ask "But what about sending political activists and GOP operatives to Iraq< in the guise of journalists, with the cooperation of the U.S.
military and on the taxpayers' dime, so that the activists can come
home
and proselytize for the Republican presidential candidate's position on

the war?"

Do you have any evidence that these folks are less capable than
"journalists" of accurately reporting on the conditions on the ground?

No. Actually, as I think the very first paragraph of my article makes
clear, I think that in principle the idea of sending a group of
veterans
to the areas of Iraq in which they'd previously served is a good one,
and is something that an editor at a publication with the resources to
do so should have thought of before.

Do you have any proof or any record of Pete Hegseth or David Bellavia
mis-representing the conditions in Iraq on their previous trips there?

I didn't look for any. That wasn't the point of my story, which was
about political activists going to Iraq as embedded reporters and thus
receiving the benefits of the embed program.

Do you have any evidence of coordination or collusion between the
current administration or the McCain campaign regarding this embed
trip?

I didn't look for any. That wasn't the point of my story, which was
about political activists going to Iraq as embedded reporters and thus
receiving the benefits of the embed program.

If not, then why do you claim that they are acting essentially as
surrogates?

First off, I think it's important to point out that I don't make that
claim in the way you describe; "surrogate" has a particular meaning in
the context of a political campaign, and I didn't use it. What my
article showed was that VFF members and leaders, including some of the
people on this trip, are political activists who have at times
campaigned or worked for John McCain and who are currently involved in
the election in a way that political observers seem to overwhelmingly
feel is intended to support McCain.

Are you aware that VFF paid their own way from Kuwait to Baghdad on
civilian Gryphon Airlines?

I was not, and I should have checked on that. I was aware that not all
embedded reporters use military aircraft to fly from Kuwait to Baghdad,

and that some choose to enter Iraq via Jordan. A previous draft of the
story included a caveat to that effect. The published version should
have as well. We've changed the story and will be posting a
clarification.

However, I think it's important to note that the article had already
made clear that the primary expense for a non-embed has nothing to do
with getting from Kuwait to Baghdad. I wrote:

Without embed status, the on-the-ground costs for any reporter or
private citizen traveling in Iraq are dramatically higher. The cost of
security alone, which often means an armored car and a driver as well,
drives the price of any Iraq trip sky-high. In an e-mail, a reporter
for
a major American daily who has been to Iraq as an un-embedded reporter
said that paying for non-embedded reporters involves "an infrastructure

cost that can be very pricey, in the millions of dollars each year."

What, about the VFF Mission Statement for the Back to Iraq trip,

"It's essential for the American people to know the facts about what is

happening in Iraq. Some media, and certain politicians, still fail to
assess the situation objectively; so Vets for Freedom is heading Back
to
Iraq to let the American people and key lawmakers know what has been
accomplished, what still needs to be done, and how we should proceed in

order to attain sustainable security in Iraq."

qualifies as advocacy journalism of the foregone-conclusion variety,
strident conservative division? They state that some journalists and
politicians fail to accurately report, and they are going to take an
objective look. They also state that they will report what still needs
to be done, how is that a foregone conclusion?

I think we both know that there are certain words and phrases that can
show what side of a political debate someone is coming from. That's
true
in this case.

You can also see the op-ed that the eight people going on the trip
penned for the Washington Times, which provides an even better example
of what I'm talking about:

"Most frustrating of all, Mr. Obama says that he thinks our troops have

performed admirably in Iraq - and yet he and his surrogates continue to

downplay their sacrifices by suggesting at every opportunity that the
hard-won gains we see in Iraq are not due to their efforts, and indeed,

would have materialized in their absence.

"What are we to make of this? For starters, whatever Mr. Obama did
during his brief visit to Iraq, "fact finding" was scarcely part of it.

It appears that his stage-managed trip was, in many respects, the
Democratic equivalent to President Bush's choreographed landing on an
aircraft carrier five years ago.

"Indeed, when Mr. Obama had the opportunity to visit our troops
stationed in Germany, he declined to do so, saying it would be
"inappropriate." The only difference? At the U.S. bases in Germany, he
couldn't bring the TV cameras along.

"Whatever Mr. Obama's conduct, it in no way diminishes Americans' right

to know more about the facts in Iraq. And in the absence of an honest
assessment from the Democratic front-runner, we'll do it ourselves."

Why does the fact that these correspondents support the winning efforts

in Iraq disqualify them from being able to report on the conditions now

and how they differ from their previous time spent there in a fair
manner?

It does not, and I never said it did. The second paragraph of my
article
reads:

"It's unremarkable to send reporters with thin journalistic credentials

to Iraq, or to promise that journalists with a known political bias
will
report "objectively." Conservative and liberal publications send their
preferred reporters to Iraq all the time, and their representatives
come
home, unsurprisingly, with differing conclusions. But what about
sending
political activists and GOP operatives to Iraq in the guise of
journalists, with the cooperation of the U.S. military and on the
taxpayers' dime, so that the activists can come home and proselytize
for
the Republican presidential candidate's position on the war?"

Again, my article was about political activists going to Iraq as
embedded reporters and thus receiving the benefits of the embed
program,
not about bias.

Does working on a political campaign or with an advocacy group
disqualify someone from being able to be a reporter for life, and if so

wouldn't that make dozens of reporters for major outlets, who have been

activists in previous jobs, as suspect as you try to make these
correspondents?

No. The key thing here is that VFF' is currently and actively engaged
in
campaigning.

Do you believe that these correspondents will mis-represent or
under-report bad conditions in Iraq to benefit the McCain campaign?

I have no idea. I hope not, and I assume not. Once again, your question

doesn't go to the point of my article, which was about political
activists going to Iraq as embedded reporters and thus receiving the
benefits of the embed program, not about bias.

Since by any reasonable standard things have improved dramatically in
Iraq, Robert Burns of the AP characterized it as the "fragile
beginnings
of peace", will you characterize positive reports from them as
"proselytizing for the Republican presidential candidate's position on
the war", or is it actually possible that we have won the war and now
must win the peace?

Once again, my article was not about bias, or about the situation in
Iraq. It was about political activists going to Iraq as embedded
reporters and thus receiving the benefits of the embed program.

But this goes to the heart of my story, and I think the heart of your
misunderstanding of my story as well.

Regarding proselytizing, I don't think VFF needs to do that through its

reports from Iraq. They're a political organization that's been
campaigning and will continue to campaign. See, for instance, the "Four
 
Months, For Victory" campaign:

The “Four Months, For Victory”grassroots effort will take place in
all
50 states, and will focus aggressively in 12 target states that are
home
to key lawmakers. The Vets for Freedom State Captains in these
states—MN, IA, WI, MI, PA, NV, NM, MO, CO, OH, FL, VA— have staff
and
resources available to mobilize local veteran volunteers. Veterans in
these states will be organizing citizens, holding events, pounding the
pavement and spreading the word—through print and broadcast—that
victory
in Iraq and Afghanistan can be, and is being, achieved.

Additionally, VFF has been running ads that relate to the presidential
campaign, and when I spoke to David Bellavia, he would not rule out
using material taken from the "Back to Iraq" trip for future ads.

Let me put it to you this way: If VoteVets or MoveOn organized the
exact
same kind of trip and then came back and used what they'd learned,
filmed, etc. on that trip for an essentially anti-McCain campaign and
to
run essentially anti-McCain ads, would you support that?

You state, out of context, that David Bellavia introduced John McCain
saying "we have our John McCain". Even if he had meant it in the way
you
portray, how is that different than the tingle going up Chris Matthew's

leg, or the statements from reporters that it is hard to stay objective

as Obama charms them, or the standing ovation he got at the minority
journalists convention?

I don't agree that the statement was taken out of context, and
certainly
I think it's helpful to restore the context you removed. The full quote

in my article was, "You can have your Tiger Woods. We've got Sen.
McCain."

That said, again, my article was not about expressions of support or
opposition or other evidence of bias.

Hope this helps. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to respond.

                  

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