Cyber Soldier

From his home in suburban Chicago, former army paratrooper Matthew Currier Burden took his fight to a new battlefield: the blogosphere. In the process, he has reshaped war coverage by giving soldiers a forum for their frontline dispatches

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This copy of Burden’s book The Blog of War (Simon & Schuster; 2006) that belonged to a National Guardsman withstood a humvee explosion in Iraq.


Q: Do you have examples of specific moments that were covered by the Department of Defense, journalists, and bloggers differently?
A CNN news executive, Eason Jordan, reported that American soldiers were intentionally targeting [i.e., shooting] journalists. We questioned it on the blog until the media started to look into it. Jordan eventually resigned from CNN. We helped explain the ties between antiwar groups planting people in the military (called astroturfing) so they’d have more legitimacy espousing antiwar views. I think Abu Ghraib was worked into many stories that had nothing to do with what happened at Abu Ghraib, so we highlighted those differences. We have tried to look for places where our knowledge can balance or challenge common thinking.

Q: Do the blogs confirm government statements about the war or contradict them?
Both. The Pentagon and the Department of Defense aren’t in the business of trying to spin the war as much as many people think they are. They put out information and it’s up to the media to use it, question it, investigate it, or discard it.

Q: How good is local and national media coverage of the war?
Local news tends to do a better job covering local soldiers and hometown units. Annie Sweeney and John Sall at the Sun-Times did great work in a series called “The Chicago Boys,” about the local National Guard helicopter unit in Iraq. Nationally, I think highly of The New York Times’ John Burns and CNN’s Arwa Damon and Nic Robertson.

Q: Why do you think military blogs give people a better sense of what is going on locally on the ground?
The number of reporters in the war zone has dropped from hundreds to dozens, although the surge has sent some back to cover the war. In the end I believe only a soldier can tell you what it is like to be a soldier in Iraq.

Q: Is war reportage changed forever now?
Yes. Blogging has influenced the media, which influences public opinion. Now embedded reporters have blogs, too.

Q: What will be the role of blogs when the war is over?
When the war ends in Iraq and Afghanistan, it won’t end here at home. The hundreds of thousands of vets who have been in the war zone will need treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries that the Veterans Administration isn’t prepared for even now. Our next fight will be to ensure that vets get the treatment they deserve. We have a captive, motivated audience donating time and money, writing to Congress, shaping public opinion, and we will act. We will disseminate the success stories: people who sought help, received it, and got better—to remove the stigma of even reporting the symptoms.   

Milblogs that Matthew Burden recommends:

Michael Yon


Wordsmith at War

Acute Politics

Andrew Olmstead
Left his own blog to blog about his deployment for the Rocky Mountain News



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