What happens when the government gives one broadcast network or news organization “exclusive access” to cover a major news event? Inevitably, the news event gets spun the way the government wants it to be spun. The flip side is that other news organizations, not so dubiously “blessed,” are free to report honestly and truthfully. This is essentially what happened with the “U.S. combat in Iraq has ended” story when the Pentagon gave NBC and MSNBC exclusive advance access to the troop pull-out, live, on the ground, as Glenn Greenwald admirably lays out, here (emphasis is Glenn’s):
On August 18, NBC News anchor Brian Williams began his broadcast — shown live to West Coast viewers, something done only for very significant occasions — by excitedly declaring: “It’s gone on longer than the Civil War, longer than World War II. And tonight, U.S. combat troops have pulled out of Iraq.” He immediately called in Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel, who was exclusively embedded with the 4th Stryker Brigade. Engel excitedly announced that “the last American combat troops rolled” into Kuwait just moments ago.
We were then treated to grainy video of the khaki-dressed Engel “rolling out” with the Brigade, interviews with American soldiers describing what a historic event this was, all while the “NBC NEWS EXCLUSIVE” logo was plastered on the screen — quite reminiscent of the embedded media coverage that glorified the invasion itself. Even Williams noted the similarity: “We watched the invasion happen on live television thanks to, at the time, some brand new and exclusive technology. Well, tonight again we have watched the pullout of combat troops the same way.” At the end of the 7-minute segment, Williams heaped praise on Engel, whom he hailed as “our own young veteran of this conflict,” for this “astounding bit of reporting.”
It’s not difficult to understand why NBC and MSNBC hyped the event the way they did. The reason they had what Olbermann touted as a “worldwide exclusive” is because — in response to NBC embed requests — the Pentagon contacted them and offered exclusivity, knowing that the arrangement would incentivize NBC to treat the event as something of monumental historic importance. By selecting NBC as the only broadcast network to be told in advance, swearing them to secrecy, but arranging for them to cover it exclusively with video, it became their story, and they thus, predictably, were eager to tout its importance. That’s the natural inclination when someone is given exclusive access by the Government.
As Glenn notes, even though Rachel Maddow and others mentioned the 50,000 U.S. troops that are remaining in Iraq, it did not diminish the overall effect. But now, enter the Associated Press (emphasis is Glenn’s):
Yesterday, however, the Associated Press’ Standards Editor, Tom Kent, issued a memorandum to AP editors and reporters instructing them not to use this White-House-created formulation that “combat operations in Iraq are over,” on the simple ground of inaccuracy:
Whatever the subject, we should be correct and consistent in our description of what the situation in Iraq is. This guidance summarizes the situation and suggests wording to use and avoid.
To begin with, combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is, even if they come from senior officials. The situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months. Iraqi security forces are still fighting Sunni and al-Qaida insurgents. . . . .
As for U.S. involvement, it also goes too far to say that the U.S. part in the conflict in Iraq is over. President Obama said Monday night that “the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.”
However, 50,000 American troops remain in country. Our own reporting on the ground confirms that some of these troops, especially some 4,500 special operations forces, continue to be directly engaged in military operations. These troops are accompanying Iraqi soldiers into battle with militant groups and may well fire and be fired on.
In addition, although administration spokesmen say we are now at the tail end of American involvement and all troops will be gone by the end of 2011, there is no guarantee that this will be the case.
Our stories about Iraq should make clear that U.S. troops remain involved in combat operations alongside Iraqi forces, although U.S. officials say the American combat mission has formally ended. We can also say the United States has ended its major combat role in Iraq, or that it has transferred military authority to Iraqi forces. We can add that beyond U.S. boots on the ground, Iraq is expected to need U.S. air power and other military support for years to control its own air space and to deter possible attack from abroad.
You can’t give “exclusive access” to everyone, of course, which is how this particular maneuver will always backfire if the rest of the press is doing its job.