There were no reporters riding shotgun on the highway north of Baghdad when a roadside bomb sent Sgt. Elizabeth Le Bel's Humvee lurching into a concrete barrier. The Army released a three-sentence statement about the incident in which her driver, a fellow soldier, was killed. Most news stories that day noted it briefly.And, it seems that milbloggers are causing controversy; seems the military wants to have at least some control over what is written.
But a vivid account of the attack appeared on the Internet within hours of the Dec. 4 crash. Unable to sleep after arriving at the hospital, Le Bel hobbled to a computer and typed 1,000 words of what she called "my little war story" into her Web log, or blog, titled "Life in this Girl's Army."
"I started to scream bloody murder, and one of the other females on the convoy came over, grabbed my hand and started to calm me down. She held onto me, allowing me to place my leg on her shoulder as it was hanging free," Le Bel wrote. "I thought that my face had been blown off, so I made the remark that I wouldn't be pretty again LOL. Of course the medics all rushed with reassurance which was quite amusing as I know what I look like now and I don't even want to think about what I looked like then."
Since the 1850s, when a London Times reporter was sent to chronicle the Crimean War, journalists have generally provided the most immediate first-hand depictions of major conflicts. But in Iraq, service members themselves are delivering real-time dispatches -- in their own words -- often to an audience of thousands through postings to their blogs.
In April, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the top tactical commander in Iraq, published the military's first policy memorandum on Web sites maintained by soldiers, requiring that all blogs maintained by service members in Iraq be registered. The policy also barred bloggers from publishing classified information, revealing the names of service members killed or wounded before their families could be notified, and providing accounts of incidents still under investigation.But it's not just milbloggers the military has a problem with. From the Virginian Pilot earlier this week, we learn about Navy veteran Charlie Mitchell who decided to publish good military news on the web. He posted "home town press releases" on his site, Armed Forces News Service. As Louis Hansen reported,
"We don't have a problem with most of what they write, but we don't want to give away the farm," said Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a military spokesman in Baghdad, who said such guidelines are nearly identical to those required of news organizations that cover the military.
When Navy leaders at the Pentagon heard about it, they raised flags about security for sailors and their families. They stopped sending him news releases.So, let me get this straight: we want to make sure our milbloggers aren't divulging classified information, and we want to make certain our own press releases aren't published to the web?
Mitchell gathered releases via e-mail from the two official military sources for good news – Fleet Hometown News based at Norfolk Naval Station and the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service in San Antonio. The Fleet Hometown News Center handles Navy, Marine and Coast Guard news.So what's the problem? Well, the brass doesn't want all that good news in one place. Not all in the military's public affairs community agrees.
The branches produce good news for small-circulation newspapers and zoned editions of larger newspapers, including The Virginian-Pilot. About 12,000 newspapers, periodicals and broadcast stations subscribe. The hometown news services produce several hundred thousand releases annually.
The releases boost morale, said Betty Bashara, who was director of media relations at Fleet Hometown News until January. They are “for mommas to put on their refrigerator and call their neighbors and say, 'Look at the newspaper!’”
Soon, Mitchell began publishing for service members in five states. Eventually, he worked with the military agencies to collect e-mail releases from every state and several U.S. territories.
Visitors to his web site could scan through articles for service members almost anywhere.
Bashara said Mitchell helped promote the hometown news services’ core mission. “He was always co operative, he was always polite,” Bashara said. “He’s doing it for the right reasons.”
Gerry Proctor, marketing director for the Army & Air Force Hometown News Service , said Mitchell has helped publicize service members’ achievements and accomplishments.I guess they do. They fear good news might aid pranksters and terrorists. Lord knows, we don't want good news -- or unfettered truth from a war zone -- making its way into the public domain.
Proctor said the releases, which mention family members and home towns but not addresses, pose a “very, very, very low threat.” However, he said, “The Navy may look at it differently.”