Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dance, Foxholes, Dance!

In the light of Fox News scrambling to maintain the thinnest veneer of "balance" after Democrats refused to lend them respectability, I thought it might be time to point out something I witnessed first hand as a public affairs sergeant in Afghanistan. I call it the "Fox News Two Step."

You see, because my position was apolitical, very few of the journalists knew of my personal political leanings. I was, to them, just the guy who would get them on flights (and sometimes travel with them) to distant forward operating bases. When I wasn't in the field covering my own stories, I served as sort of a liaison between journalists and field units, getting writers, photographers and broadcasters on the ground to write about the war and answering their questions when they called. In other words, about half my job was to be a info source and/or travel agent for journalists.

On more than one occasion, I worked with Fox News producers and reporters. Once, in Herat, I saw one of the Foxholes approached by a couple of soldiers. One of the soldiers said he was glad they could finally talk to a "conservative" reporter. The reporter laughed and said, "Someone's got to balance out the liberals." But, later, I ran into that same reporter in Bagram. He wanted an interview with some soldiers and, when I grabbed one at random to ask if he wanted to talk to Fox News, the soldier--an Army captain--said he didn't, because, as a Democrat, he wasn't a fan of the network's politics. The reporter, shaken up, said that was ridiculous. The network had no politics, but only told the truth. "Whatever," said the captain and walked off. The reporter, after a few beats narrowed his eyes at the soldier's back and quietly hissed, motherfucker.

Just before Thanksgiving, 2004, a Fox News producer with whom I'd worked a number of times in Kabul and Bagram showed up on Bagram Air Field to shoot what military PA people call "Hi Moms"--the little snippets of video of service members saying "I'm Corporal Bill Jones from Paducah, Kentucky and I want to say 'Happy Thanksgiving' to my wife, Sheila and my parents Don and Lorraine in Louisville." I was confused about why he would be doing this. My unit--and every PA unit--shot hundreds of these every year for holidays, the Super Bowl, the Army/Navy game, etc., and provided them free of charge to all who asked for them. When I asked the producer why he had come, he said he'd had the same question when he was told that he should know better. It was "part of (his) contract," he said, to get on his knees "and give Bush a blowjob" every month or so.

I don't think it's necessary to rat these guys' names out--though they're written in my notebook alongside where I scrawled what they said--because one of them I thought was a pretty good guy, but these are just two of the instances of clear bias on the part of Fox. Many of the questions they asked seemed designed to lead to soundbites declaring everything in Afghanistan just wonderful, while other reporters seemed to want to tell a story well and thoroughly--CBS's Lara Logan, CNN's Ryan Chilcote and Newsweek's Tim McGirk deserve special attention. (Only once did I meet a reporter with a clearly anti-US, anti-military bias: Carmela Baranowska, who treated US bases like free hotels, ate up more than her share of MREs, once washed her dainties with the Marines' limited drinking water at a FOB and then, when she was finally kicked off the bases for being useless, disappeared. After we scrambled the OHSHIT scouts to track her down, she popped back up on the radar, complete with a convenient and completely bullshit story about Marines terrorizing Afghans. I can't and won't go into all the reasons her career-enhancing documentary is ridiculous, but you'll just have to trust me on this.)

I guess the reason I got to see a behind the scenes performance of the "Fox News Two Step" was because I took my job seriously. I knew Americans weren't above reproach in Afghanistan, but I also saw that 99 percent of service members really wanted to help people. I believe in the military, in service and I believed in what we were doing in the country (though some of the choices made by Karzai and Khalilzad still make me want to perform an autolobotomy by banging my head against a wall). Because I was so obviously a cheerleader for soldiers, I suppose the Fox reporters just assumed I was a pro-Bush guy.

But my experience is just another version of what you can see on Fox every day, ratcheted up to the nth degree. When Fox's anchors accuse Democrats of rooting for terrorists or Bill O'Reilly rails against "Secular-Progressives"--wink, wink--but the network's spokespeople still claim to be balanced when their Republicanism shows, you're seeing the FN Two Step on a level only a tiny bit subtler than the admission of proverbially fellating George W. Bush.

(Although the fact that the network has recently kicked off two awful, awful right wing "comedy" shows seems to be giving the trick away, no?)

Since everyone with half a brain and basic cable knows that Fox is a Republican house organ, why do they even do this dance at all? Matt Stoller found some evidence today suggesting that, despite Fox's high ratings, it might not pay that well to cater to the old and crotchety demographic. If it became too obvious what they were doing, the median age of O'Reilly Factor viewers might slip all the way up to dead. The Democratic refusal to hold a debate on Fox is not only smart in the short term--a fact proven by the results of the last Fox-hosted Democratic debate--but will, in the long term, also serve as another nail in the coffin of Fox's credibility. And, since the network is a proven enemy of the Democratic party (and the truth), that's a good thing.

So anyone who wants to see Democrats do well or simply cares about seeing candidates involved in an honest debate about the issues should be happy the Dems dropped Fox as a host. The national party should ignore anyone who acts like it was a bad idea. And those sounds of outrage you hear from the Fox studios? Those are just the cries of increasingly irrelevant blowhards, scared for their paychecks and two-stepping as loudly as they can.

Update: As should be clear to you by now, I did not say that "Fox News reporters in Afghanistan think American soldiers there are 'motherfuckers.'" I said that a Fox reporter called a soldier a motherfucker. Truth be told, I've called a few soldiers that myself (and at least a few of them were--and are--my dear friends). The word isn't the issue. What is important here is that I, and, I'm sure, other PA types, got glimpses behind the "fair and balanced" curtain to see the withered Roger Ailes pulling pro-Republican levers. Not everyone gets that chance.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no reason to doubt your assessment of Carmela Baranowska, but I have to because you outed her identity without identifying the two Fox journalists, one of whom you describe as a "pretty good *guy*", while criticizing Baranowska for "washing her dainties." Then you say we'll just have to trust you on the bona fides of her documentary.

You're a guy, according to your "about", and I don't know boo about you. But you should re-read "I don't think it's necessary to rat these guys out" paragraph and consider how bad, petty, unverifiable and sexist it sounds. That paragraph undermines your entire post.

I'm a guy, too, an imperfect one, but one who thinks you need to revisit some habits of thought, or at least expression.

12:09 PM  
Anonymous William K. Wolfrum said...

And's lead story at this very moment?

School Bus Terror Alert

‘Extremists could be driving your kids to school’

The opening paragraph?

"Members of extremist groups have signed up as school bus drivers in the United States, counterterror officials said Friday, in a cautionary bulletin to police. An FBI spokesman said “parents and children have nothing to fear.”"

Fair and balanced, baby.


12:30 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...

As a woman (and a feminist), the anonymous poster above is being way to sensitive to the word "guy" in this story.

I detest semantics as a way of getting around the truth, or at least a very convincing argument. Thanks for a great read, nitpicker...

12:31 PM  
Blogger The Boy said...

Since the target of the post was Fox News as an organization, I don't have a particular problem with not naming names or even a digression that does name a name. Very interesting post!

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I won't speak to whether or not Fox News is biased, but I will say that there is an alternate interpretation of your story. It might just be a reporter saying whatever he thinks he needs to say to get an interview.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Nitpicker said...

Um, look. No one should wash their underwear in the drinking water. Period. This was in the field and you conserve that shit. There's water for cleaning your panties, boxers, thongs, dainties, banana hammocks or the stains from the pants in which you went commando.

My problem with Baranowska was her utter uselessness and the obvious contempt she had for every soldier with whom she came into contact. She, herself, was lazy and did little but take up space. As for the Foxholes, it seemed their leanings weren't even necessarily their own, but, rather, had been gifted to them from the corporate godhead. Sure, you could give me the old, "contractors should go down with the Death Star" argument, but I don't endanger someone's livelihood because they toe the corporate line. Baranowska not only produced a documentary full of b.s., but then went on a victory lap/tour of the world explaining how brave she was to have gotten the story.

And to suggest that I am sexist is ridiculous. I have said before that the bravest, best, most honest reporter I dealt with in that country was Lara Logan, hands down. I fully believe she could kick my ass (and yours, sir) seven ways from Sunday, given the proper motivation.

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand the charge of sexism being made here, but I do question the double standard being applied to the Foxholes. If you don't like outing the one who you think is such a good guy, bush blowjobs notwithstanding, that still doesn't explain why you don't name the other foxhole. If you did, I think this story might have a chance of getting traction it deserves if it's true. Otherwise I give it the credence I give every MSM report citing anonymous administration sources. Which is too say "none."

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know anything about this "Baranowska" person. But washing your knickers in the drinking water? That says a lot. Really.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apologies for the links, but this is my own chronicle of experience with a Fox News producer. Posted on Daily Kos in Januray. Every word is true.

Original post:


1:06 PM  
Blogger Nitpicker said...


Sorry, but I'm a blogger. I'm not here to "gain traction," I'm just telling you what I saw. Believe what you want.

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reporter who called the captain a motherfucker does not merit your protection.

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the comment is not sexist, but it is a double standard to not name the Foxholes. It's your blog, you can do what you want of course, but your credibility is undermined.

You're essentially judging that what Baranowska did is worse than what the Foxholes did. Sure, you can make that judgment, but I can put up a pretty good argument that what Fox does, with the help of your unnamed Foxholes, every day, day in and day out, it much worse than what Baranowska did with that one piece.

If you and others were to help a bit by outing Foxholes like that, who are otherwise "good guys", then the pressure would ratchet up on them just a bit, and maybe they'll just eventually leave Fox so they don't have to compromise their professional standards.

Really... what's the difference between compromising your jounalistic standards because you're an idealoge like Baranowska versus doing it for the paycheck like your unnamed Foxholes? IS there a real difference in effect? Probably not.

What it comes down to is you like the un-named people, and you don't like Baranowska. Maybe they're friends of yours, I don't know.

1:17 PM  
Anonymous FGFM said...

Fox has the same problem that CBS had when they had a lot of popular comedies (Green Acres, etc.) watched by an older and more rural than average crowd. There was a great hue and cry when they all got axed. Can't wait to see it happen the to Fox News line-up!

1:28 PM  
Blogger bhfrik said...

I'm with nitpicker on this whole credibility over disclosure of names business. If he slams Fox around as a whole, that is all that needs to be said on identifying who he's talking about. It may not be the case that Baranowska's outfit is entirely biased against the troops. But it is the case the Fox is entirely biased for Bush. If you want names, just go look up their list of employees.

If the dirty wash offender had been a male I'm certain nitpicker would have used some equally gender specific humorous designation for the offense. I think the people who would take offense at this post due to sexist concerns are over reacting a bit. There are plenty of good targets to snipe at, but nitpicker does not seem to me to be one of them. Fox news on the other hand... does.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the question of "why do they [Fox] even do this dance [pretense at objectivity] at all?":

It's because their demographic demands it. Have you ever met a real-life, dedicated Fox viewer? All of them not only really believe all the propoganda they get, but they also believe that Fox is being "fair and balanced". Their own self-image is of being objective -- it's only the other side that is subjective.

Bob Altemeyer covers this pretty well in his on-line book "The Authoritarians".

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Doctor Slack said...

Baranowska may well have been as much of an asshole as you describe -- I'd be interested to hear her side of that story -- but the story of American troops harrassing Afghan villagers really doesn't sound all that farfetched in the bigger pattern of reports about human rights abuses and a recurring culture of impunity associated with various theatres of the "War on Terror."

3:04 PM  
Blogger gttim said...

If you are going to out Baranowska for her actions but not the other two for their actions, it is hard to take your story seriously.

At this point I would rather have somebody wash their underwear in my drinking water than to have them help ruin the country.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous clarke said...

This thread'll teach YOU to offer us a fascinating glimpse into a world none of us will ever get within a helicopter ride of!

"Revisit some habits of thought?" I think that guy lived on my floor sophomore year.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Reading Terry's post, I get the impression of a continuum. At one end are the exceptional reporters in the field (Ms Logan). From them we pass through an unspecified mid-range to hacks and shills (the unnamed Fox reporters).

At the other extreme from Logan is the anti-military gloryhound who was a gross imposition upon the troops, wasted precious resources, and caused extra work for soldiers who didn't need it (Ms Baranowska). To add insult to injury, after acting as a parasite on the troops, Baranowska went on to accuse marines of an atrocity they did not commit, and then tell people how "brave she was to have gotten" her made-up story.

I have no problem with any soldier (such as, e.g., Sgt. Welch) deciding that the transgressions of the Fox reporters were essentially professional, while Baranoska's were fundamental violations of deeply held beliefs about what constitutes moral behavior in dealing with soldiers.

For Doctor Slack, I note that, to the best of my knowledge, Terry has never denied that atrocities have been commited by our troops. Terry has asserted taht the specific claim of Ms Baranoska is not true. Terry makes this claim having been in service in the area at the time. He might be wrong, and his clear animosity towards Baranowska may be clouding his judgement, but he is still in a better position to assess its veracity than we are.

For gttim, I note that the actions of Baranowska were, in the context of the setting, of far worse immediate consequence than those of the Fox reporters. While Terry's decision to out her but not them may make it hard for you to take him seriously, I (and many others it seems) have no trouble doing so.

Neither Terry nor the other soldiers dealing with these journalists had the luxury of choosing if they would "rather have somebody wash their underwear in [their] drinking water than to have them help ruin the country." Terry, most certainly, had to deal with both, where as I (and, I suspect, gttim) have not. If he considers the loss of drinking water to soldiers in the field to be the worse offense, I shall not dispute him.

4:59 PM  
Blogger dan said...

As for the 'Anonymous', let me level an ad hominem attack: if you want to chide someone for not outing a Foxhole, you shouldn't hide behind 'Anonymous'.

Hey Nitpicker, this was a good read. She washed her panties in drinking water? She's a chowderhead.

6:45 PM  
Anonymous Dirtpatch said...

This reminds me of when i was in the first persian gulf conflict. when we were offered what the poster calls "hi moms", a camera man gave me a laminated sheet to look over while i waited for my turn. the sheet contained recommendations on things to talk about(loving family/friends, carepackages, etc..) along with words to "possibly" stay away from (depressed,hot, etc..).
no wonder when you see them all on tv they look like cookie cutter speeches, just different faces.

7:04 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

I will agree with one of the many anonymouses up top -- there is an alternative explanation to the first Fox story. As a reporter myself, I'll be the first to admit we sometimes try and play nice to get an interview. Pretending to be on someone's side is particularly egregious and, in my mind, unethical, but it's not an admission of bias per se.

I think Fox is horribly biased, and I have no problem believing the reporter may have genuinely believed and meant they were on the conservative side -- it's true, after all -- and I think this is an interesting story, well-told, but I don't think it's absolute evidence of bias.

7:07 PM  
Anonymous Doctor Slack said...

I note that, to the best of my knowledge, Terry has never denied that atrocities have been commited by our troops.

Right, and I certainly wasn't accusing him of blanket denial. I guess what I'm getting at is that at least the outlines of Baranowska's story are plausible enough given other known occurrences that saying "trust me, it's ridiculous" isn't going to be a useful way of discrediting it.

Anyway, I'm not just here to bitch. In the main this is a very informative and useful post. Thanks.

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fox is my favorite news show, second to the Daily News with Jon Stewart and third to Stephen Colbert, if only because I laugh at it the hardest!

Keep 'em coming, Nitpicker. I'm lovin every minute of it.

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I could agree that 99% of soldiers just want to do anything. When you put people in an untenable situation you turn otherwise good folks into highly charged and highly potential bad folks. While their are certainly genuinely bad people doing awful things overseas in uniform, the bigger, more obvious, and less talked about problem is, indeed, good people thrown into bad situation doing worse things. See the movie The Ground Truth, to learn about, say, the war chants these soldiers learn in bootcamp and training:

"Bomb the village, kill the people
Throw some napalm in the square
Do it on a Sunday Morning
Kill them on their way to prayer
Ring the bell inside the
Watch those kiddies gather round
Lock and load with your 240
Mow those little motherf*kers down"

That is offered verbatim by one of the soldiers interviewed.

And that, in a nutshell, is how you turn someone into the devil. Just like our "enemies" do to their own, as well.

And that, my friends, is wretched and something we should all be ashamed of.

I should add that my little brother is one of those soldiers, has served two tours.


7:55 PM  
Anonymous Kevin Hayden said...

Nice work, Terry. Since any sentient being knows that Faux is a propaganda machine, I well understood your points.

One Faux guy believed in the bias, the other understood the sham. Why bother naming either to get them praise or a firing, when both are just doing their job?

And it's ludicrous that some point instinctively to sexism for naming someone whose actions could only demoralize and infuriate the soldiers. Further, as she is a freelancer, there's no harm done with an employer. And since her product was clearly an insult to the troops, and damaging to the troops and our nation's rep, I think you are correct to identify her.

Your guys deal with an awful lot of crap for doing a duty few choose, and I know it's incredibly stressful and some will sustain psychic wounds precisely because of the traumatic nature of their work. That you're biased towards them is apropos and should be understandable to all.

Thus, outing Baranowska is also understood, for she unfairly attacked them after taking liberties with their supplies. She was rude, inconsiderate, hostile and on a propaganda mission designed to glorify herself while tearing them down.

I don't understand why some consider your post out of line. I found it informative and interesting, solid journalistically, with points well made.

Other than your pro-soldier bias, which is one you've made clear (and I share, too), there might be a hint of nationalistic bias, as it has to seem worse when you host a foreign reporter who attacks her hosts to gain notoriety.

Yet if it was a US documentary person doing the same, I suspect you'd as surely call them on their shit. So all in all, I get exactly what you were trying to point out and see no judgment errors at all.

More simply, nice work!

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just rot in Hell, all you right-wing, republicans, or conservatives. You are all just vile trash!

9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Jim and by association, Terry;
I wouldn't worry too much about the slightly tainted panty water....those boyz are Marines and I don't believe for one moment the water went to waste! No Siree.

Now as to Fox... now that's a waste, as is this boondoggle of a war.

9:41 PM  
Blogger PoliShifter said...

Hi Nitpicker,

obviously you are gaining traction off this by not trying to gain traction. C&L linked your article up which is how I got here.

It seems there are some out there that are worried your blog post might get some traction and thus lead to more exposure of the fucking bullshit games our media plays.

And btw, soldiers are trained to kill. If you send soldiers off to other countries to fight, people are going to get killed.

Blaming the troops I think goes just a little too far left for me. I place the blame squarely on GW Bush and Dickhead Cheney for proesecuting these wars negligently and poorly. They fired any military commander that stood up to them with some common sense like Shinseki.

If you ramp up the rhetoric as this administration did about "Islamofascists" and terrorists then send in the marines to kill anyone that looks like an enemy what the fuck do you expect will happen?

Soldiers aren't trained to think and rationalize, they are trained to kill. The goal is to take out hostile targets.

And if one listens to Bush/Cheney enough you will soon get the impression that any Muslim or person with brown skin who looks "different" or "foreign" is an enemy.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

To Terry:
Wow -- great post, with eye-opening insights. Many, many thanks!

To Kevin Hayden:
Thank you for saying what I was trying to say, only in a clear, direct, and forceful manner.

To Doctor Slack, who wrote, "I certainly wasn't accusing him of blanket denial. I guess what I'm getting at is that at least the outlines of Baranowska's story are plausible enough given other known occurrences that saying "trust me, it's ridiculous" isn't going to be a useful way of discrediting it.":
Fair enough, "Trust me" will not persuade on who doesn't trust the speaker.

To Anonymous a few comments up:
True, them boyz are Marines! ;-)

5:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Kevin Hayden above: It's one thing to out a couple reporters who answer to network bosses, some of whom are not True Believers themselves but are, er, just following orders.

It's quite another to out a
freelancer who acted in such an egregiously insulting manner she's lucky that's all that happened.

But as a woman, may I throw in my two cents worth? I was kinda surprised, reading along, to suddenly see accusations of 'sexism' - it simply didn't occur to me while reading this post that gender (or more correctly sex) had anything to do with anything here. And, as a woman, I see it doing more harm than good to women for anyone to make this sort of accusation. I'll be glad when the day (hopefully) finally arrives that society is gender-blind enough to despise a bad reporter and admire a good one based on the work, and forget whatever sex that person happens to be.

Good post, enjoyed it a lot. Of course I'd be lying if I didn't say I'd dearly love to see certain Foxholes (love that) named and shamed, but I see the logic, and the honour, of why they're not. I'm a proud secular progressive liberal, a registered Democrat, and just hope that the troops in Iraq know that there are plenty of liberal Dems who support them - even when we don't support the administration that put them there in the first place.

5:40 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Kevin has already said anything I might have and much more eloquently so I'll just say I think it was a brilliant post Nitpicker. I'm glad nolocontendre sent me over here.

6:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think all of the reporters should have been named. The excuse "I was just following orders" has been debunked by history. Being retired military I've learned the hard way not to take anyones "word". If you can't back it up with facts (for whatever reason)then don't mention it. Haven't we liberals (not all liberals are Democrats) been criticizing the news media for their anonymous sourcing? Just saying.

6:39 AM  
Blogger DaddyFiveOh said...

Re the "Update": Don't sweat a wee bit of exaggeration from Wonkette. It's a terrific post, and I'm glad they brought your blog some attention.

Just wondering, though: Does the disapproval for the "just following orders" excuse for the Foxholes apply also to the official US military public affairs personnel who dish out the bullshit on what's happening in Iraq (and maybe even in Afghanistan)?

8:02 AM  
Anonymous the field negro said...

Great post nipicker,I for one do hope it gains traction. (Also came over by way of C&L)Someone has to call out the FAKE NEWS NETWORK on their bullshit!!!

"Fair and balanced" my black ass.

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The unfortunate thing is this POST claims to be actually speaking firsthand.

Since I am an ex-soldier who is against the war. Would like to be the first person to call the NITPICKER a lying fucking troll - - just trying to stir a pot that is already stirred!?!? Please take down your site, and stop wasting people's time with LIES!!!!

How would I know, well YOUR set-up is all wrong... YOU talk about FOX news crews filming "HI Mom's!!!" around Thanksgiving 2004. They film those clips in the middle of the SUMMER? And it's not the NETWORK guys that do it????? It is the fucking AFN "Armed Forces Network"

EVERYBODY stop reading this assholes BLOG it is a wste of your time!!!!! AND Terry Welch and the NITPICKER are just looking for some attention!!!!

11:30 AM  
Blogger Nitpicker said...

You're funny. As I pointed out in the actual post itself, "I was confused about why he would be doing this. My unit--and every PA unit--shot hundreds of these every year for holidays, the Super Bowl, the Army/Navy game, etc., and provided them free of charge to all who asked for them."

So, you know, either read the post before complaining or, failing that, have an adult read it to you, dick.

12:44 PM  
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3:56 AM  

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