War reporters dress for the job
I was thinking of applying for journalist Peter Arnett’s job at NBC but I quickly realized I’d probably be no better than he at keeping my mouth shut. I know Geraldo Rivera may soon be leaving the Fox Network for drawing pictures in the sand when he was supposed to be reporting, but I’ve never been very good at keeping secrets either. I would happily replace Dan Rather at CBS, but I suspect he died years ago.
In any case, I could never be a wartime correspondent primarily because I haven’t the wardrobe. I have never, ever, been even the least bit drawn to purchasing one of those hideous trench coats with the collars that could cover Ringling Brothers’ big top that apparently are de rigueur for the modern TV journalist. What possesses a person to wear what no other rational being on the face of the earth would don? It seems as soon as these otherwise reasonable folk get their orders overseas they immediately start dressing like Humphrey Bogart. And then there are those safari shirts that seem to be endemic to this particular profession. What possible use can be made of all those pockets? And when was the last time you bought a shirt with epaulets? And exactly what are epaulets anyway?
The only war correspondents who seem to have their heads screwed on right have helmets sitting on top of them and flak jackets protecting the rest. I nearly fell off my chair the other night when one reporter kept interrupting his 15 seconds of fame by evading incoming artillery. While he was dodging bullets, I was thinking that surely there is a safer way of getting the information back to us other than standing atop a bunker with TV lights shining in one’s face. And just what sort of person checks into a hotel in the middle of Baghdad two days before the start of a U.S. war against Iraq? Every night we get reports from these brave, if somewhat imprudent, men and women reporting that their temporary domiciles are shaking from the bombs being dropped atop them and, what’s more, the folk on the street are giving them some very dirty looks. Hello!
The best correspondent in my book is Tom Friedman of the New York Times. Twice a week he presents a balanced analysis of what is turning into something other than a “shock and awe” quickie. Friedman, very well acquainted with the Middle East, recognizes the necessity of ridding Iraq of its dictator but worries over who will come next. For those who think that anyone would be better than Saddam Hussein, Friedman can offer some very frightening alternatives. In Friedman’s words, “We need to finish the peace, better than we started the war.”
By the way, I have seen Mr. Friedman on television on several occasions and he was always wearing a regular suit and tie. I hope this doesn’t undermine his credibility with the American public.
Most of the generals I see on TV are wearing a kind of upscale and neatly pressed fatigue ensemble. One can’t help but wonder why these men, safely ensconced well behind the lines in Washington D.C., find it necessary to camouflage themselves while addressing millions of viewers around the world. Judging from the grousing coming from some of the commanders on the front lines, one can reasonably speculate as to whom the top brass are hoping to hide from.
My favorite outfit so far in this war was worn by a correspondent whose name escapes me but whose garb does not. He was bedecked in a gas mask that, hopefully, protected him from any biological or chemical nastiness out there while at the same time prevented his listeners from understanding a word he said. Which, after the nonstop coverage we’ve been deluged with, was just fine with me.
Rich Mayfield’s musings on fashion and other subjects usually appear in this space on Saturdays.
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