In which our intrepid hero reflects on coverage of events in East Timor.

The Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting story today, regarding an interview that Australian commander in East Timor, Brigadier Michael Slater, gave to the Today programme:

[Brigadier Slater] was pressed by Today host Jessica Rowe about whether Dili really was as safe as the Australian military claimed, given the presence of armed soldiers at his shoulder.

Pausing briefly, Brig Slater replied: "Jessica I feel quite safe, yes, but not because I’ve got these armed soldiers behind me that were put there by your stage manager here to make it look good."

Oops. Looks like someone’s got a case of the Hearsts.

Actually, it reminds me of a story I heard about, some years ago, regarding the Chechen War. Two squads of Russian conscripts were assigned to take up positions at either end of an occupied village. Suddenly, gunfire rang out from one end, and elements of the squad posted at the other raced to engage what they thought were Chechen rebels, attacking the first squad. They rounded a corner, weapons blazing.

What they saw were a bunch of their comrades, firing down an empty road away from the village, with a news crew behind them, filming frantically. It seems that the news crew wanted some "action shots" to spice up the visuals on a story they were doing. No one had bothered telling anyone about this beforehand, though.

As a result, the news crew—and the squad they were embedded with—very nearly ended up as casualties of friendly fire. Luckily, the other squad managed to exercise enough fire discipline that nobody was seriously wounded.

Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.