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LJWorld.com weblogs Ally Shaw

The War for Hearts and Minds

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In late September, I was one of 19 journalists participating in the University of Kansas’s <a href =http://www.ftleavenworthlamp.com/articles/2009/10/01/news/news1.txt>;"Bridging the Gap: A Military Experience for Journalists" </a>funded by the McCormick Foundation.  
We ran obstacle courses, ate MREs (meals ready to eat), and exercised at 4 a.m. with the soldiers.  My experience was eye opening and fantastically fun.  But the real purpose of the week was to create a dialogue between the servicemen and women at the Command General Staff College in Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. and journalists.  
Despite the fact that we are two American institutions defending freedom in the United States, we are at odds.  
The relationship is slowly getting better, of course.  Ten years ago journalists certainly wouldn’t be allowed inside the building.  But the tension between the military and the media was still apparent.  I “embedded” with a class of officers learning about the history of war.  After the professor had left, a group of students stayed behind to talk to me about the media.
They wanted to know why we are so eager to print negative stories about the war, when so many good things are going on.  We wanted to know why the military can be so difficult to work with.  Together we explored difficult media ethics issues, like the decision to print a photo of a fallen soldier without the consent of the family.
We lamented the downfall of the embed program, which allowed the journalists to get right in the action and bond with the soldiers.  Unfortunately it has become too expensive to keep journalists with the troops for an extended period of time.
Military journalists Max Boot said in his <a href=http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/boot/332>; blog </a> that the conventional thought in the military is that the press is untrustworthy and biased.  Soldiers who are quoted too often may be seen as “glory seekers” or “self promoters.”
But wars today are won with information, not guns.  And America’s enemies have mastered the art of manipulating the press.  General David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, has made an enormous effort to improve the military’s public relations.  But first there must be a significant shift in the mindset of the servicemen and women of all ranks.

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