Liz Trotta on the Gulf War

Liz Trotta has much to say about Vietnam and its impact on electronic reporting. And it's all worth hearing.

LAST fall, months before television's first live-from-the-scene war in the Gulf, Liz Trotta predicted in a newspaper opinion piece that ``the press isn't going to get anywhere near the war.'' She was right. Tight access to the front lines, in the form of limited, mostly unsatisfactory trips by ``pools'' of reporters, kept the media at a distance from the action.

But Trotta, the first woman correspondent for an American television network to report from the Vietnam War, doesn't blame the military for letting this happen. The Pentagon learned its lessons from Vietnam, she says, and ``these guys have become experts now'' in handling the press.

After working beside American troops in Vietnam, Trotta became an admirer. ``I was gratified to see [in the Gulf war], albeit it was a short, shiny little war, that soldiers walked tall again,'' she said in a Monitor interview. ``Having lived through the bitterness of the '60s and the '70s, when men were afraid to put their uniforms on in public, my heart went out to these guys.''

It was newspapers and television networks, Trotta says, who failed in their Gulf war duty. They ``rolled over'' when they should have been fighting the ``silly'' pool-reporting idea designed to contain them, she says. Television settled for simply ``a nice, Technicolor war. We had shifting sands on CNN; we had shiny jets. [The networks] had a very good time with the hardware. I call it `Gone With the Sands.' That's what it looked like.... They had a lovely mini-series going there.''

The media also hindered their own cause by too often sending inexperienced or unqualified journalists. ``There weren't enough reporters trained in defense news to have developed any sources,'' she says. One exception, in Trotta's opinion, was Peter Arnett, a veteran of Vietnam, the Panama invasion, and other war reporting. She dismisses the flap over Arnett reporting from Baghdad after other Western reporters left. Instead, she points to the Baghdad reports as ``an absolute primer for how electronic jou rnalism should be done.'' While some TV reporters in the Gulf drew attention to themselves, Arnett ``wasn't talking about his fear; he wasn't guessing. He was being the classical wire-service reporter sticking to what he knew, speculating just a bit'' based on his knowledge of military tactics.

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