Journalist/Soldier?

(AP Photo/Talal Mohammed)
In recent years, we've seen the relationship between the military and journalists get rather … adversarial. Some might even call an investigative reporter who becomes a soldier in Iraq and then returns to the newsroom after his tour of duty confused, if not schizo.

Carl Prine of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review prefers the word patriotic.

In the days after 9/11, Prine gained lot of attention and respect when he investigated the security status of chemical plants in Chicago, Houston and Pittsburgh – and found them very vulnerable. He remained committed to the security beat over the years until 2005, when the former Marine decided to re-enlist in the National Guard, take what he had learned about security issues, and apply them in Iraq.

In a conversation with Public Eye, Prine indicated putting back on the uniform was a simple decision. "The military called me and said they were having trouble reaching their recruitment goals. I felt I had to do my duty, so I joined up with the 1st Battalion of the 110th Infantry of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, a unit that hadn't seen combat since the Battle of the Bulge – and was sent over to Iraq."

Prine is one of a number of journalists out there who can talk of Iraq with the voice of a veteran, but the eye of a reporter. He talked about his fellow soldiers who complained about media coverage. "My unit was stationed between Ramadi and Fallujah – a very rough place. The war was going badly. I'd been blown up four times. And some of the soldiers would ask 'Why are the reporters all doom and gloom?' I'd have to tell them 'If the reporters were here and saw what we go through, there's not much good here.'

"You can't blame the media," he continued. "You can't ignore the media. You can't keep them out. When [I] would find commanders who didn't understand the media, [I] would find they didn't understand the war. They would get their news from one source." When asked what that one outlet was, he responded "Fox News Channel."

Prine sat down with NPR's "On the Media" this past weekend to discuss how his experiences in the theater of war colored his views on the political debate when he got home.
Interviewer: So when you came back, did the chemical storage beat, did it look different to you

Carl Prine: I had less patience for a lot of stories that were being told out there by flacks. For example, I remember I would call up a railroad official and he would say, well, there's no way possible a terrorist could blow up a railcar.

No. I think once you've seen an armored vehicle melted and you're pulling out bodies of people that you knew, you have a lot less patience for people who suggest that a bomb-maker can't possibly fathom a way to open up a chlorine railcar. It's ludicrous. Absolutely ludicrous.

The only part that I really don't like is when they question my patriotism. That really bothers me, because the only reason why I was in Iraq was because of my patriotism. I'm hearing this now more and more. Journalists have lost the war in Iraq. Journalists are helping terrorists. This personally offends me. It's a disgusting thing to say.
When I asked him about the relationship between the media and the military in the 21st century, Prine said it was like oil and water. "You could be a prostitute, you could be a lawyer, it wouldn't matter to them. But you couldn't be a journalist … They assumed that any journalist was reprehensible and inherently untrustworthy."

In our conversation, Prine also added that "there are some that'll tell you that the role of a journalist is to talk truth to power. But as far as I'm concerned, it's just to talk truth. Wherever that truth leads you, that's where your reporting must go. If the truth is to tell people we haven't done enough to protect civilians from chemical attacks, then that's the story you have to write."

Public Eye believes that there are a lot of Carl Prines out there in MediaLand – whether they've spent time in Iraq or not – trying to get to the bottom of things, without hidden agendas. They don't see their mission as impugning but improving. And it's worth noting as we celebrate Independence Day that the act of pointing out and reporting upon weaknesses in some national security issues – while such stories may be difficult to read – is not just a news story, but the first step in making the necessary changes to remedy those problems. As Prine says, "When did it become traitorous to report that what the government says they're going to do, they're not doing? That's why you get into journalism. Otherwise, why buy the paper?"
  • Matthew Felling

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