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1 A.M. MONDAY, MARCH 4, 1991
Dhahran

The past day was a day of rest. I slept from 5 a.m. till 10 a.m., got up to watch the cease-fire talks between General Schwartzkopf and the Iraqis. The Business Unit from New York showed up in the afternoon, and Lou Dobbs brought me greetings from Ken Chamberlain. Since Ken left the San Fran bureau to become a network V.P., I've tried to stay in touch, and it felt good to be remembered. If one good thing comes from this assignment, it will be meeting all the heavies from Atlanta, D.C. and New York. After the war is over, the politics resume.

We packed up personal gear for the folks in Kuwait; it will be shipped out in the morning with the Business convoy. Then, it was almost six hours of sack time! I anticipated another graveyard shift, but on the way in I noticed an item on the bulletin board outside the military information bureau. They were signing up people for a field trip to a military hospital in the morning. So our producer, Terry Frieden, said to go back to bed and be ready to make the trip in the morning.

So in the absence of anything else to do, or report, I'm going to record some of the cultural articles I've noticed here in the media pool. From the bulletin board:

Trade? Would like to swap pieces of Berlin Wall for pieces of Patriot missile.  JAY ARD--German TV       Where can I purchase a bare-bones trailer for 1.8M earth station?  Leave message at EBU

And now that the show is winding down, this memo has popped up:

TO: ALL FORMER COMBAT MEDIA POOL MEMBERS

      WE NEED YOUR COMMENTS.
      PLEASE WRITE YOUR OBSERVATIONS AND
      SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS FOR IMPROVEMENTS
      OF ANY FUTURE COMBAT MEDIA POOLS.
      OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL MONTHS WE WILL BE
      WRITING AFTER-ACTION REPORTS AND WILL HAVE
      A CHANCE TO INFLUENCE PUBLIC AFFAIRS DOCTRINE,
      EQUIPMENT, PERSONNEL AND TRAINING.
      PLEASE PROVIDE YOUR WRITTEN COMMENTS
      AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO:

          COLONEL BILL MULVEY,
          CHIEF, MEDIA RELATIONS DIVISION.

Okay, he asked for it. The lynch mob forms to the right. The crews who went out in the combat pools had high praise for the cooperation and consideration they received from the commanders and troops in the field. But back at the Media Relations Division, all was obfuscation, misdirection and delay. The Information Officers were most concerned with keeping their charges out of harm's way, and to that goal give them credit--they brought all the press back alive. But the press failed to bring back the story, i.e., the "bang-bang," so someone, somewhere, has somehow failed. There will be much indignation, but deep down the military doesn't really care. They don't call us "media pukes" 'cause they like us.

And finally, some graffiti from the liveshot location, overlooking the famous blue domes of Dhahran. The domes, it turns out, are the roofs of locker rooms by the hotel pools, but they do look good on TV. It was here the media pukes watched the Scuds come in, and the Patriots rise up to greet them1. From the first attack, which was met by a mad panic in gas masks, came a growing attitude of cynical, blasé, fatalistic humor. On one makeshift panel is penciled a betting pool on when the next rocket will land. The last rule states, "YOU MUST BE ALIVE TO COLLECT."

Then there is inscribed a list of "WAR TRUTHS":

      1) WAR IS VERY LOUD
      2) IT'S ALWAYS BETTER TO HAVE A CHOICE THAN NOT HAVE A CHOICE
      3) DON'T FART IN YOUR CHEMICAL SUIT
      4) THERE ARE NO ATHEISTS IN GAS MASKS
      5) FRIENDLY FIRE ISN'T
      6) YOU DON'T GET PAID BY THE PIECE IN COMBAT
      7) YOU ARE ALWAYS EXPENDABLE IN THE MINDS OF YOUR SUPERIORS
      8) MILITARY INFORMATION AIN'T

How much will the news veterans miss the action, now that it's over? What stories will they have to tell, and who will listen? They have no doubt been through an unforgettable time in their lives, and they--like the military--are the proud victors. May they stay that way. They neglected a final truth, which I must add:

      ALL GLORY IS FLEETING. THINGS CAN ALWAYS GET WORSE.

Current water temperature in the media pool is 69°F.


1Editor's note, 2011: For those who are too young to know or too old to remember: a "Scud" was a long range missile which the Iraqis launched at Israel and military bases in Saudi Arabia. A "Patriot" was a U.S. missile launched to intercept the Scud in midair before it hit something. We learned after the war that neither missile was very accurate. During one liveshot, a concerned anchor in Atlanta asked CNN correspondent Richard Blystone whether he was worried about the Scud attacks. Dick famously replied, "It's a very big world and I'm a very small target."


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© 2011 Chuck Afflerbach for The Hick Town Times