Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, aka Joe the War Correspondent, has been in the Middle East on his new covering-the-war-as-a-reporter gig long enough to conclude that reporters should not be permitted to cover wars. Alas, I think he was referring to reporters not named Samuel J. Wurzelbacher.
To be honest with you, I don't think journalists should be anywhere allowed war [sic]. . . . I liked back in World War I and World War II, when you'd go to the theater and you'd see your troops on the screen and everyone would be real excited and happy for them. Now everyone's got an opinion and wants to down soldiers—our American soldiers, our Israeli soldiers. I think media should be abolished from reporting.
Memo to Joe the Propagandist: That's been tried. Do you remember Baghdad Bob? He was certainly good for entertainment, though I can't speak to troop morale. It's been tried by people in other countries as well, some of whom were the villains in those newsreels Joe the Historian recalls so fondly.
Let's skip the basic civics lesson about the role of a free press in a free society; and let's skip slippery-slope questions like: If Joe the Philosopher is right, then when engaged in a "war" without front lines, should independent media be abolished entirely? (Could we keep sports reporting?)
And while it may not occur to Joe the Television Consumer that people might have ever gotten their news in any fashion other than from a screen, war correspondents existed well before either of the World Wars. Reporters like Edward R. Murrow and Ernie Pyle were revered and beloved by not only the soldiers but by families back home anxious for news—not propaganda—about what was going on at the front. The military worked to keep Pyle at the front lines for morale reasons during World War II—and he was killed there by sniper fire.
I covered the Pentagon—which is not to suggest that I was a war correspondent—for a couple of years for the Boston Globe. I once had the opportunity to see retired Gen. Harold Moore speak about military-media relations. Moore fought in Korea and Vietnam. Joe the Film Critic might remember Moore as having been played by Mel Gibson in the 2002 movie We Were Soldiers about the famous Ia Drang battle in Vietnam. The movie was based on a book Moore cowrote with—wait for it—a reporter who was there with the troops.
Moore told us that he had welcomed reporters in Vietnam. "I just loved for my troops to get bragged about and for the press to write up my troops," Moore told us. "I was so damn proud of my troops for what they were doing in that tragic war."
When we asked Moore about the notion that the media lost the Vietnam War by ginning up criticism at home, he replied: "That didn't bother me. People in America have a freedom to do that. I fought in a couple of wars for that freedom."
But I'm sure Joe the Military Strategist knows more about such things than does Hal the General.