One of the loneliest men in journalism this week is Kevin Sites, the NBC journalist whose footage of a US marine executing an Iraqi insurgent in Fallujah has caused such a storm.
Shunned and hated by the soldiers with whom he had become friends, he has also faced vilification from much of the American public, who see his report as tantamount to a betrayal of their nation – even though it was completely non-judgemental.
This week, Sites published an open letter on his web site to the marines with whom he was embedded, in an attempt to explain why he had to send the footage back home to be aired. Some of it bears repeating here: “In war, as in life, there are plenty of opportunities to see the full spectrum of good and evil that people are capable of. As journalists, it is our job to report both- though neither may be fully representative of those people on whom we are reporting.
“But our coverage of these unique events, combined with the larger perspective, will allow the truth of that situation, in all of its complexities, to begin to emerge. That doesn’t make the decision to report events like this any easier. It has, for me, led to an agonising struggle- the proverbial long, dark night of the soul.”
The mosque killing highlights the crux of the whole embedment debate. As long as the news coming out is ‘good’, then everybody is happy.
But what happens when it isn’t? Military chiefs are doubtless already reviewing their policies.
Sites was, of course, right to do what he did. It would be wrong if his dark night of the soul is a prelude to the sun setting on embedded journalism.