It was the old dream of every budding journalism student, to become a swaggering, glamorous war correspondent—P. J. O’Rourke if not Hemingway. But that dream is likely to be one casualty of this war, at least on what we call “the print side.”
And the journalistic winners could be Web “reporters” who never leave the safety of their desks.
The Pentagon’s embedding of reporters was really designed for TV people, because (duh) it’s the pictures that matter. But the poor print denizens? They’re filing copy whose lag time—probably twelve hours—is a stinging anachronism.
Which is not to say some of it isn’t good (or at least entertaining). The Times, being the Times, offers more front-line reporting than any normal reader can actually read, but at least most of it justifies the space—like Dexter Filkins and Michael Wilson’s compelling report from An Nasiriyah that conveyed Iraqi citizens’ confusion upon encountering American troops. (“What are you doing here?” exclaimed one. “Go to Baghdad!”) The Daily News is skimping big-time on front-line reports, but its few pieces achieve a World War II tonal verisimilitude. Meanwhile, the Post offers flag-waving dispatches from Vincent Morris and Jonathan Foreman that recall jingoistic Victorian-era Britain: “Repeating the sneering nickname used for Saddam Hussein,” wrote Morris, a Marine “kept saying, ‘So damn insane, so damn insane. I’m going to come up there myself and kill you.’ ”
But newspaper dispatches are merely a sideshow. The media keep telling us that the military difference between this Gulf War and the last one is technology. True. But it’s the media difference, too. The change is the Web, and the people really following this war are following it online. Dozens of bloggers, writing under rubrics like the Fly Bottle, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, and the Volokh Conspiracy, are providing serious, up-to-the-minute critiques of the action. And this war’s Ernie Pyle is embedded not with any Army division but in front of a computer about 7,500 miles from Baghdad. Sean-Paul Kelley is a San Antonio money manager. But in temps de guerre, he’s the Agonist (what a brilliant name!), the commander of a must-read Weblog that constantly links to and culls from a range of the most informed, relevant Websites—and that makes for a pretty good first draft of history. “This happened on the front … Al-Jazeera is reporting that … Oh, and thanks for sending me that pizza, whoever you are.”
“Mom, I wanna be a blogger” may not have much élan. But it’s where we’re going. At least moms will rest easier.