Jewish World Review April 4, 2003 / 1 Nisan, 5763

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Ah, the life of a war correspondent this time around | DOHA, Qatar I'll get no sympathy from the soldiers whose company I'd prefer, but my war so far has been one of luxury and frustration.

I'm slated to be "embedded" with the First Armored Division. But the division isn't likely to arrive in the theater for several more weeks. So, for the time being, I'm here at Central Command headquarters on the outskirts of Doha, a city that looks a little like Las Vegas - if you can imagine Vegas without gambling, half-naked women, and public displays of drunkenness. (There are plenty of private displays of drunkenness.)

The nature of the duty for "war correspondents" here is pretty well summarized by a sign on the door of an office in the media center shared by British and Australian journalists:

"Please be on the lookout for Darren 'Gobble' Lawton, war correspondent for Channel 7 in Sydney. He was last seen at the pool bar of the Ritz-Carlton sipping cocktails, or playing golf at the Royal Doha Golf Club . . . Management is worried he might be lost, disoriented or suffering from battle fatigue."

I'm staying at the most luxurious Marriott I've ever seen, where the room rates are also the most reasonable I've ever experienced. Food's expensive, though. And the pool bar is nowhere near as nice as the one at the Ritz-Carlton.

I don't get to spend as much time at the pool bar as, apparently, "Gobble" Lawton does, because, for reasons that are unclear, Qatari customs confiscated my laptop and satellite phone when I arrived in the country, and when I am not out at Centcom, I'm cooling my heels in various Qatari bureaucracies as they invent more hoops for me to jump through before I can get my stuff back. And, without my equipment, filing stories is a b-tch.

The highlight of our work day is the 3 p.m. briefing, which you can watch on cable TV at 7 a.m. EST. The view we get from here is what the military calls the "operational" view, as opposed to the tactical view, which is provided by the embedded reporters, and the strategic view, which the big shots at the Pentagon provide.

The briefings usually are conducted by Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, a star who is likely to wear several more stars than the one currently residing on his collar points before his career is over. Brooks is a good briefer. But he treats information - good and bad - as if it were sterling silver handed down to him from a beloved grandmother, and he is reluctant to part with it. The briefing I attended before writing this column is a good example. In the 24 hours preceding it, an F/A-18 Hornet was downed near Karbala, the first loss of a fixed-wing aircraft during the war. And a Blackhawk helicopter went down, killing six, perhaps seven, American soldiers. Brooks didn't mention this in his opening remarks. Nor did he mention that soldiers and Marines had advanced so close to Baghdad they could see its skyline, against remarkably little opposition.

Because Brooks clutches the silver so tightly, good questions are required to pry information from him. There are some reporters who routinely ask good questions. There are more who do not. The public affairs officers don't exactly have a pool about which reporter will ask the most stupid question, but they remember the howlers, and chuckle about them after the briefings.

I'm amazed at how many questions are asked about ongoing operations, questions that Brooks could not answer without putting U.S. and British troops at risk. Do the questioners have IQs between a rock and a carrot? Or are they hoping that Brooks might slip up and say something that could get American soldiers killed? If so, Brooks has disappointed them.

Among those who ask really stupid questions, a woman representing the Boston Globe stands out. Her "questions" are usually as lengthy as they are inane.

The editors of the Globe would never assign to cover the Red Sox a reporter who didn't know the rules of baseball, or make a theater critic of someone who'd never seen a play. Yet they sent this ditz to cover a war. They should be ashamed.

Despite the large number of reporters here who aren't quite sure from which end of the rifle the round comes, the press corps is a pretty good barometer of how the war is going. There haven't been any questions with "Vietnam" in them for days. The gang from al Jazeera have gone into a funk. They lie to their audience.

But they know the truth, and the truth is giving them indigestion.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Jack Kelly