The terrain of the information battlefield
If a blogger goes to Iraq largely at his own expense to cover a war he believes has been incompletely reported by the regular newspapers, this is the way he is characterized by the Washington Post:
Roggio's arrival in Iraq comes amid what military commanders and analysts say is an increasingly aggressive battle for control over information about the conflict. Scrutiny of what the Pentagon calls information operations heightened late last month, when news reports revealed that the U.S. military was paying Iraqi journalists and news organizations to publish favorable stories written by soldiers, sometimes without disclosing the military's role in producing them. ...
In addition, the military has paid money to try to place favorable coverage on television stations in three Iraqi cities, according to an Army spokesman, Maj. Dan Blanton. The military, said Blanton, has given one of the stations about $35,000 in equipment, is building a new facility for $300,000 and pays $600 a week for a weekly program that focuses positively on U.S. efforts in Iraq. ...
The Post went on to say Roggio was credentialed by the American Enterprise Institute, an allegation that Roggio denies.
After military officials in Baghdad said Roggio could not be issued media credentials unless he was affiliated with an organization, the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning research organization in Washington, offered him an affiliation, according to an entry on Roggio's blog. He and two other bloggers launched a new Web site a month ago ( http://threatswatch.com/ ), where he has posted many stories about his time with the Marines. Most provide detailed accounts of patrols or other outings on which he accompanied U.S. forces.
I was not credentialed by the American Enterprise Institute. This would be impossible as the needed press credentials must be provided by a media organization. A friend suggested I approach the American Enterprise Magazine, which is a periodical published by the American Enterprise Institute. We were unable to work out an agreement, so I searched for an alternative.
Another friend suggested I contact The Weekly Standard. Richard Starr was happy to help and provided the necessary credentials to embed. Also, Rod Breakenridge of the Canadian talk radio show The World Tonight kindly provided documentation for credentials as well. The two letters allowed me to successfully embed, and there were no questions about my credentials in Baghdad or elsewhere.
On the other hand, the Washington Post has largely missed this story. It turns out that Al Jazeera invited a hundred bloggers, all expenses paid, to a symposium in Qatar earlier this year to promote its stations. One person who wrote on the subject was Alvin Snyder.
One of the most controversial recent events in the blogosphere was the 2nd Annual Al Jazeera Forum in Qatar in February, where at least 100 blogger-delegates had all travel and accommodation costs covered, courtesy of their host sponsor. Another instance involved 25 bloggers who were hired by Holland's tourist bureau to fly to Amsterdam, stay in a five-star hotel and tour the city with an unlimited credit card. And, oh yes, the bloggers might decide also to write about the great tourist destination, but were not obligated to do so.
At least one blogger disclosed the Qatar trip to their readers according to Snyder.
Professor Marc Lynch, who wrote about the Al Jazeera conference in his blog Abu Aardvark, believes his ethics are intact because "travel and accommodations plus a small honorarium is the absolute norm for academics giving talks. It isn't the least bit controversial, and 'ethics' doesn't arise at all….I give a dozen talks a year, and every one offers the same – the only variation is the size of the honorarium."
Professor Lynch is being forthright according to Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, because "professionals" who earn their living by research and writing are expected to have a different set of standards from amateurs.
academics have very different standards than journalists. So you end up with two sets of standards, one for the 'professionals' and one for everyone else. That's why I think transparency is so important. If the audience can at least discern which writers are financially independent in their pursuit of topics and who might have a conflict of loyalties.
Caveat emptor. Let the reader beware.