29 Tips for Bad Writing on Afghanistan

Embedded Journalist Action FigureCentre for Arab and Islamic Studies PhD candidate Christian Bleuer offers up “29 Tips for Bad Writing on Afghanistan.” Among my favorites:

2. Make a gross generalizations about Afghans based on a single Afghan you met (a far too small sample size will also suffice).

8. Use exoticisms that make you sound really informed. Something like “Pashtunwali,” “Deobandi,” “badal,” “arbakai,” “jirga,” “shura,” etc… You don’t understand these terms in their social context. But no worries, neither does your reader.

14. Name drop. When I was having tea with General McChrystal and Minister Atmar they told me to name drop early and often.

17. Selectively quote an expert. You could (and this is totally, totally fictional) interview a professor who specializes in some aspect of Afghanistan for 45 minutes and then use a sub-10 second clip that confirms your pre-set agenda even though they said about a dozen other things in the same interview that contradict your agenda. Don’t worry, professors are not media- or internet-savvy enough to find a way to publicly shame you in justified retaliation.

22. Report from a one week embed that consists of a trip by Blackhawk helicopter to a secure FOB and then talk about what it’s “really like” in a combat zone.

Obviously, this advice is being frequently taken. But it’s useful to collate them.

Image via Danger Room

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Humor, Media, World Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    I’d rephrase #3:

    Have your story written before you get off the plane. This is an efficient use of time, both in the air and in having to find only confirmatory facts upon arrival.

    This is a technique I’ve come across in nearly all my foreign assignments, so it must be popular.

  2. 11B40 says:


    Back in the last ’69, I was an infantry squad leader in Viet Nam. One day, while we were being resupplied by helicopter out in the bush, a camera crew arrived along with the things we needed.
    A while later, our Captain came over to me with the crew in tow and asked me if I wanted to take them out on a patrol I was about to leave on. In one of my proudest moments in the war, I replied, in my New York fashion, with a question, “Do I have to bring them back?” We went out; they didn’t.

    I am profoundly uncomfortable with media involvement in combat operations. It’s one more thing to worry about when everyone is chock full of worries already. Nobody goes into a restaurant through the kitchen. Our combat soldiers deserve similar respect. Let the media build their résumés on someone else’s work.

    Lastly, there’s an old Burt Lancaster movie about the Viet Nam war, entitled “Go Tell the Spartans”. Near the film’s conclusion, Lancaster castigates one of his vacillating troops by calling him a tourist. My sentiment exactly about our brothers and sisters in the media.

  3. steve says:

    11B40- War journalism has a long and important history. We are responsible for what our troops do. We should also be aware of the sacrifices they are making. A lot of those embedded now were active duty military.


  4. 11B40 says:

    Greetings: especially “Steve”

    At the risk of appearing contentious or overly persistent, I don’t find your arguments convincing.

    My experience of journalism is that 90 or 95% of it is done after-the-fact and/or away-from-the-scene. How is “War journalism” different in its requirements? The historical aspect is of limited importance in my mind. The contemporary journalist has acquired a education in a largely left-wing academia that has no trouble confusing fact and opinion.

    As to previous active duty military, that’s all well and good conceptually, but will they come armed and prepared to defend themselves? Will they be self-sufficient or will they be dependent on military logistics? Are they prepared to be left behind if the situation demands it? Previous military service may open some doors, but I don’t know what problem it solves.

    Perhaps my point was somewhat obtuse, but I was trying to address the participation of journalists in combat operations. I have no problem with their being in the theater, bases or camps and having access to officers and enlisted men. But, the idea of their going on combat operations has, in my mind, more to do with mythology and romance than actual journalism.

    Journalism, if it is a profession, is one without licensing, performance standards or malpractice liability. We may be responsible for what our troops do, but we are also responsible for what we do to our troops. To complicate a military operation because some politically approved general thinks a journalist is a nice-to-have addition doesn’t pass my sensibility test.