On Asking Questions
By David Briscoe

Having sat through a few Rumsfeld briefings and experienced the chortles of the "sympathetic claque," I'm not particularly proud of any of the reporting that relies so heavily on what the Pentagon wants to tell us. Reporters who would ask repetitive, annoying or even so-called naive questions are rarely advanced or encouraged by editors who often view the world solely from an American point of view and would rather quote an American than an Iraqi, a general than a lieutenant, a policymaker than a victim or a wounded soldier.


Unfortunately, the smartest Washington reporters, the ones who seem to be asking the most knowledgeable questions at briefings, even the ones with the seemingly most informed analyses, are also the ones most comfortable with and most acceptable to the so-called newsmakers who define the debate in Washington but not the necessarily the realities abroad.

Sometimes, I think news organizations should put their most eager and inexperienced reporters in Washington and other world capitals to ask the questions and keep the veterans out in the real world where the most important stories are not being told.

Even the most honest government briefer is unlikely to have any real knowledge of what's happening in the field. Reality from the battlefield is never handed to journalists in briefings. It's something that needs to be witnessed or dug up by your "free-range reporters" or those mavericks who dare to defy the restrictions government puts on information and access.

The last thing so-called "mainstream journalists" should be doing is disrespecting those who are uncovering important truths and exposing the raw materials of chaos and error before they can be refined into false history.

We traditional reporters sometimes do great work, but not enough of it, and we have a tendency to scoff at, dismiss and condemn those who break the government's rules, even when they're willing to face the consequences in the name of truth and light.

The real question is whether, in the end, we would rather have the history of any war written with or without access to the classified documents. Isn't the journalism now even more important than the history to be written for future generations?

David Briscoe, recently retired AP bureau chief in Hawaii, worked in Washington after reporting for AP in Southeast Asia.