Jewish World Review March 25, 2003 / 21 Adar II, 5763
To go or not to go
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | One thing Media Person is really happy about is that nobody's ever thought of embedding media columnists among the reporters embedded with the troops in order to provide instant critiques of their techniques. "Quit fiddling with that gas mask, journalist, and type!" is not something Media Person can easily see himself shouting, especially through his own gas mask. Or maybe, "Hey, ask that Marine colonel tougher questions, you spineless worm, or Media Person will ridicule you mercilessly and then turn you over to the Columbia Journalism Review."
No, Media Person is quite content to have been embedded on his couch for the duration, not just of the war but of his life. Truly, as the sages advise us in the ancient chronicles, some of us must go, and some of us must stay.
The problem is that some people don't know which they are.
Take Ted Turner. Ted thinks he's a goer. The erratic, semi-retired communications mogul volunteered to ship out for Iraq as a CNN correspondent. Really. It was only the network's executives who held him back.
"I'm 64, pretty much financially wiped out, and it would be a dramatic way to exit the world," he said at a Syracuse University-sponsored forum in New York. "But they said no, I wasn't qualified. How qualified do you have to be? Holding the microphone and describing the world falling apart isn't a magical thing ... 'I'm here in Baghdad ... bombs are everywhere ... '"
This raises three interesting questions. One, what does Turner mean by "pretty much wiped out?" In his financial league, does that mean "down to my last billion?" Has he perhaps had to sell one of his ranches? Will he be on the street next begging for spare Krugerrands?
Two, is it true that just about anyone can do network television reporting? If so, should Wolf Blitzer and Christiane Amanpour be paid millions when any 64-year-old busted t ycoon off the street can stand under the Tomahawk cruise-missile bursts and occasional whiff of nerve agent and calmly explain to Dan, Tom or Peter what the traffic situation is in Baghdad? We need to investigate this claim immediately.
And three, if Ted needs a dramatic exit, why not just throw himself in front of Jane Fonda while she's jogging?
But now, to perfectly balance the case of he who would go but must stay, we have the saga of he who could go but wouldn't. Hampton Sides of The New Yorker has split the journalistic community. Some say he is a wimp. Others say he's the smartest individual they've ever heard of in their entire life. No question about which camp Media Person is in.
For those of you who haven't yet read his story (and you're never going to be assigned to Baghdad, you can count on that), Sides volunteered for war-correspondent duty and proceeded to Kuwait to be embedded into a front-line Marine recon battalion. While undergoing gas-mask training, he became unnerved listening to Marine instructors describe the effects on the human body of various chemical agents. For example: "Sergeant Parks ... launched right into a description of what might happen if we were 'slimed' by a 'snowstorm,' the operative term for a toxic cloud in the new military parlance. Parks related how a victim of a chemical attack would lapse into intense, twitching convulsions, which he likened to 'doing the funky chicken.'"
It was during this vivid presentation that Sides achieved epiphany and, in a beautiful update of Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, told the Marine officer in charge, "No offense, but I can't do this." He then headed in the general direction of his wife and three children.
While some of the more macho journalists of both sexes may cluck in disapproval, Media Person salutes Hampton Sides for pulling perhaps the greatest delayed stay in journalism history. And there can be no question of his courage. In MP's book, to face the glares from one's glory-hungry colleagues onsite and back in the home office takes even more nerve than facing the rockets' red glare. No, this is a man with true staying power. Not to mention sense.
As for the actual war itself, it got off to a strange start. What Media Person, monitoring the greenish Baghdad skyline on CNN Wednesday night, initially thought was the promised "shock and awe" attack turned out to be merely a "decapitation" strike whose outcome, as MP writes this, was uncertain. It was soon followed by televised speeches from all the leading politicians on both sides, including Saddam Hussein -- or someone who looked like him.
Consulting the pages of several steno pads, Maybe Saddam rattled on about jihad against infidels, reckless criminals and evil enemies. If he had a sense of humor, he just would've said, "Nyah, nyah -- you missed!"
Problem is, Saddam was a man who stayed when he should have gone.
03/12/03: How to talk war talk