First Lieutenant Josh Rushing
By S. Abdallah Schleifer
This interview with
First Lieutenant Josh Rushing (U.S. Marines), a spokesman and Public Information
Officer at Coalition Central Command (Centcom), was conducted by telephone on
April 8,2002 and incorporates elements of an earlier interview conducted in person
by TBS chief editor Schleifer, who traveled to the Gulf (Doha, Dubai, and Abu
Dhabi) during the first week of the war as TBS special correspondent.
With Baghdad airport clearly secured, and significant incursions into Baghdad
that only the ideologically intoxicated and the Iraqi Minister of Information
cannot see the beginning of the end for the regime appears to be in sight, and
with Najaf not just secured but obviously delighting in its status as a liberated
city, with all of this, have you noticed any shift in attitude, any new willingness
on the part of the Arab media, to recognize the credibility of what they have
been hearing and ignoring from Coalition spokesmen here at Central Command for
nearly the past three weeks?
First of all, understand that there is no correlation between Arab media and the
Iraqi people. What Arab media do the Iraqi people get? They don't get Al Jazeera
since satellite dishes are prohibited. I believe the only Arab press the Iraqi
people get is their own government press and they have not trusted that for a
long time. The Arab world is forming very strong opinions of us based on biased
coverage by the Arab press.
But then you have this
quarantined society inside Iraq which isn't hearing all this Arab regional TV
discourse and interpretative if not misleading reporting. So the Iraqi people,
unlike most other Arab people, can judge us by our actions and you are seeing
now in the southern cities like Najaf that they are very happy to have us there.
I read a fascinating
interview in the New York Times, in which the reporter is talking with a friendly
shopkeeper in Nasiriyya. And the shopkeeper says, "Stop killing the paramilitaries
who your army is now fighting outside of town. They aren't Iraqis: they are Jordanians,
Sudanese, Syrians, and Egyptians. They come here with the wrong impression. They
think you are intentionally killing Iraqi civilians and are seizing the mosques."
The shopkeeper was making the point that the Arab press is creating a hatred based
on a false image of Americans.
The irony is it might
be more excusable if the Arab media was doing this to boost the morale of the
Iraqis but they are more likely simply pandering to Arab Nationalist ideologues
who dominate intellectual discourse.
Arab newsmen from a leading
Arab satellite admit their coverage is biased but says it has to be that way because
otherwise they get cut out of the action in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq where
the regime still has control and they implied that once the regime collapses their
coverage will become more balanced.
Would you describe the embedding experience as a success.
There are over 500 embeds reporting on the action as they see it unfold. Constantly
we have news organizations calling us back for confirmation of these reports from
the field. But we deal with strategic issues and opportunities. If something happens
out in the battlefield, we will get 25 to 50 calls because they don't want to
attribute to a competitor so they call us even though the embed news reports reach
the public before we get it through channels. We have to say that we cannot confirm
because if the incident is important it still takes time for confirmation to get
back to us through channels.
And furthermore Gen. Frank
and his staff don't have a need to know for that sort of micro-action which-with
embedded reporters-is what gets reported. We would be inundated if every action
got reported back through Pentagon operational channels.
At the briefing some very impressive footage of a Ranger night combat raid was
shown. Are you providing this footage to newsmen here because at this stage (first
week) when an American military spokesman or even an American reporter stands
up and makes a claim, like a devastating raid on Iraqi positions, or the distance
remaining to Baghdad, no one in the Arab world believes either the reporter or
the spokesman given the mind set formed by much of modern Arab political culture,
which denies whatever is inconvenient or uncomfortable, that has been aggravated
by some of the claims coming out of here the first couple days, like that Umm
Qasr had been taken and then it turned out there were elements in the town still
resisting days after US military sources said the town was taken.
we distributed that particular piece of combat footage to the press pool.
I cannot stress enough the importance of generating more footage like that and
distributing it and shooting it through to conclusion of the episode so if you
claim that the position raided was overrun by US Special Forces or Rangers, then
we see just that. I know the reason for the embedded cameramen not having pictures
of important actions is because their presence could slow attack and infiltration
teams down and because the environment is just too dangerous. But that's precisely
why Army or Marine combat photographers exist within the corps - they are trained
military men who can keep up with a camera instead of a rifle. Even without the
credibility problem television in general craves picture. In the old days when
I was a producer reporter and a bureau chief nobody in New York would never ask
me if I had the story when I called in; the only asked if I had the picture.
That's a point well taken and I will pass that comment on. But you should know
that when we announce that an objective like Umm Q asr or Nasiriyya is "secured"
that doesn't mean that its safe or cleared of all enemy forces. It means that
we have secured enough of a hold on the objective to accomplish a paramount mission
like sending humanitarian assistance through a town or controlling critical areas
within the town like bridges necessary for moving men and materials up to another
front. So "secured" is different from "safe" and the media confused the terms,
so when we said Um Qasr was secured they thought it meant it was safe.
Do you do on-camera interviews with the Arab satellite channels?
we do. I have done several with Al Jazeera and once I got them to interview James
Cladd, who is a state department officer attached here, as well as with Major
Frank Thorpe, who is the senior spokesman.
Has Al Jazeera sought out more interviews with Army and State Department spokesmen
here than Abu Dhabi, which is the only comparison since I know Al Arabiya isn't
able to get here since the Qatari officials wont accredit them in what appears
to be a payback for Saudi Arabia banning Al Jazeera from operating in the Kingdom.
Yes they have. In part that's because they have a big office here at Centcom -
three correspondents in comparison to Abu Dhabi's one but also because Abu Dhabi's
correspondent here, in contrast to the overall conduct of the channel is highly
politicized and confrontational towards us. But you know we will talk to anyone
who we feel will give us a fair shake, from any country and any channel. All we
ask is that they don't see themselves as representing one side or the other. We
also provide the local channels with information in the form of press releases
and background reports a well as hard-to-get video, usually of special operations.
There are more than 500
embeds out in the field with American and British units, that's more information,
more journalism coming out of this war than any earlier war and being transmitted
in many cases live from the front. The challenge here is the Gulf War Paradigm.
Since we cannot keep up with the embedded newsmen we are encouraging the news
organizations to go with what they have. TBS