What I Don’t Have in Common with the Rendon Group

by Joshua Foust on 8/31/2009 · 7 comments

Nir Rosen has a pretty sobering look at the profile the Rendon Group assembled of his reporting. It’s interesting to see, because both Rendon and I had serious issues with his “Taliban embed” report from last year (I even accused him in the Columbia Journalism Review of being unable to separate bluster and rhetoric from reality).

That being said, Rendon took its assessment over the line.

Rosen’s writing style is typically narrative and highly editorialized, profiling non-officials and his interaction with them… Sentiment from Afghan civilians and possibly Taliban sympathizers and insurgents may be reported. Additionally, the difficulties facing individual US soldiers on the front lines may be covered.

I’m not the first to say this, but that is the great strength of Rosen’s work. He and I disagree politically, and probably have come to different conclusions about the Afghan War (though, as I said to Michael Cohen, I am growing more pessimistic by the day), but Nir Rosen’s greatest strength is avoiding the official perspective on the conflict. Frankly, I wish more reporters did that, and stopped mindlessly reprinting official press conferences.

Rendon Group compiling profiles on journalists is not in and of itself evidence of any perfidy. As Paul McLeary said earlier today,

That the military is tracking the media’s output is evidence of little more than a misguided attempt at performing good due diligence.

Indeed. It is appropriate and fair play for a story’s subjects to use Google and Nexis to get an idea of what they might be in for… and, like it or not, reporters are not constitutionally privileged to the Military supporting and funding their transportation and security the way they do for embeds. The real scandal in Rendon’s reports is that they’re so clumsy. They also seem to misunderstand that reporting involves actually talking to people, and not just being led around by the nose by a local PAO. That, more than their contract itself, is where the real scandal lies (also why it’s too hard for an Specialist to assemble these things—a quick Google search really require a $1.5 million contract?).

As for me, I don’t think Rosen is negligent or malicious in what he reports. I just thought he was biased, and didn’t demonstrate sufficient skepticism in his reporting from Ghazni. That’s not a reason to deny him access to the Army, and it’s good to see that some officers still recognize that.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 7 comments }

FreeDem August 31, 2009 at 5:26 pm

What I have always liked is that Rosen reported what he saw/felt and has a real reporters empathy for the average “walking around folks” missing in so many.

What I liked even more was that the commanders on the ground used the information quite counter to the intention of the Rendon group, taking a very negative report as a badge of honor.

Pirouz September 1, 2009 at 12:40 am

I’ve been an avid reader of Rosen’s material for some time now. This post gave me the idea of looking up his background. He is actually jewish-iranian, and I presume an Israeli-American dual-citizen. He could even have been eligible for Iranian citizenship, but his Israeli citizenship probably precludes that.

Joshua Foust September 1, 2009 at 6:52 am

… yes, and? I don’t care about his citizenship (and don’t you dare start talking Israel in this space). I care about his reporting. Where he or his parents were born is immaterial.

David M September 1, 2009 at 9:10 am

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 09/01/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

steve September 1, 2009 at 1:18 pm

I agree about Rosen’s welcome ignorance of the official party line delivered by breathless PAO’s and staff officers about all the wonderful things our military is doing in Afghanistan. I also thought criticisms of Rosen’s “embed” with the Taliban were often ridiculous ad hominem attacks on Rosen’s lack of patriotism, if not evidence of his outright subversion.

But I’ve seen little discussion about what the infamous “embed” article really delivered: a rather thin narrative about an aborted attempt to see what the Taliban were doing (governance?) peppered with hyped-up encounters that read like one of Robert Young Pelton’s ‘dangerous’ self-deprecating misadventures. That is, the story, despite its promise, delivered nothing new. Nothing like Rosen’s Fallujah work.

Now, let’s see what the latest story gives us…

steve September 1, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Sorry, I meant to suggest that others had accused Rosen of subversion, not me. I accuse him of sloppy story-telling, at least in that one instance.

DC Civilian September 2, 2009 at 3:43 pm

I think you might want to get your facts straight. USFOR-A has pointed out that their contract with Rendon was primarily for worldwide media analysis of the Afghan conflict. The journalist profiles element was stated to be a small part of the contract.

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