The war of images took another step forward this month when the U.S. military announced the creation of its own YouTube channel. Army Major Armando Hernandez explains why the Pentagon is bringing the fight to the enemy and to the small screen.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone. BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Tuesday marked the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq. In that time there has been little doubt that the Internet has become fertile ground for recruiting jihadists and insurgents, but the online response from official U.S. military sources has been fairly subdued, generally declining to engage with the enemy's battlefield video – which is why, says the multinational forces in Iraq, their new online effort will be a significant step forward.
They've recently launched a YouTube channel to present carefully chosen video clips of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers succeeding in combat. The channel is only a few weeks old, but already they consider it a success.
Major Armando Hernandez is the media outreach embed chief with the multinational forces in Iraq, and he joins us now. Major, welcome to the show. MAJOR ARMANDO HERNANDEZ: Thank you, Bob, for having me on the show. BOB GARFIELD: So you're two weeks into this YouTube project. What is on the channel so far, and what's the response been? MAJOR ARMANDO HERNANDEZ: So far we have 12 videos posted. We have numerous combat action videos, videos with coalition soldiers working with the Iraqi counterparts, accomplishing the mission. The response has been overwhelming. The number of viewers is increasing dramatically every day. BOB GARFIELD: There is one video titled Battle on Haifa Street: Baghdad, Iraq. It's three minutes long. It's been up for a week. It's had almost 54,000 views already. Can you describe for me what's going on there? MAJOR ARMANDO HERNANDEZ: Yes. There you have a sniper team engaging enemy targets. [VIDEO CLIP: SOUNDS OF BATTLE][END VIDEO CLIP] They have also taken some direct fire, but there they are taking the fight to the enemy. BOB GARFIELD: Now, this video is fairly sophisticated. It doesn't look like it was shot from a cell phone, for example. How did you gather these episodes? MAJOR ARMANDO HERNANDEZ: Our Armed Forces network has videographers that embed with military units, just like normal journalists embed with our military here. We also have combat camera soldiers that go out and take footage. And we're also asking anyone associated with the coalition to submit videos to us. But safety comes first. Video shooting comes second. BOB GARFIELD: Is there anything that's off limits for soldiers in sending this stuff along to you in hopes that it'll be posted on the YouTube channel? MAJOR ARMANDO HERNANDEZ: The things that we will reject is any video containing profanity, sexual content, extreme gore, operational security violations, mockery of host country or third-country nationals or any footage that depicts the coalition and Iraqi forces in a poor light. BOB GARFIELD: Something I noticed about the videos is that they kind of lack context. There sometimes are on-screen explanations of where you are and what the date is, but you don't find out a whole lot about how the troops wound up in the situation they're in, certainly not how the episodes that are being captured fit into the larger mission. In some ways do these videos raise more questions than they answer? MAJOR ARMANDO HERNANDEZ: That's an interesting point. I believe that our videos show the heroism of our American troops. They show how well trained they are. They show that the Iraqi soldiers are willing to fight, which a lot of times they do receive a lot of negative press. But there's a lot of brave Iraqis out there that are fighting side by side with us, and it's effective. BOB GARFIELD: Now, there's an interesting quirk about having a YouTube channel, and that is while the military can clearly control the videos it posts, it cannot control the videos that automatically pop up next to the sanctioned ones. What about this Pandora's Box effect, that, you know, in your attempt to manage the message you're actually exposing the audience to exactly the kind of messages you least want to see? MAJOR ARMANDO HERNANDEZ: Well, actually, we get comments from viewers with different views. You have people that do not like the U.S. involvement in Iraq, and you also have people that support the involvement. I believe that that discussion is always good, and it is interesting to see how we are actually causing discussion.
But I don't see it at all as a dangerous thing. It's a manner in which the military is illustrating an unfiltered view of coalition operations here in Iraq. BOB GARFIELD: Well, not an unfiltered image. I mean, it's an explicitly filtered image, but it's certainly the Pentagon's side of the story in view of the war. MAJOR ARMANDO HERNANDEZ: It is certainly our perspective. Yes, it is. BOB GARFIELD: As you have seen some of the other videos from the ground in Iraq, have you cringed at the message that some of your own troops are sending in what they choose to upload to YouTube? MAJOR ARMANDO HERNANDEZ: Definitely. If the videos show extreme gore or if they mock our Iraqi hosts, I would be disgusted. Our aim is to be far above, beyond that.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Major Hernandez, thank you so much. MAJOR ARMANDO HERNANDEZ: Thank you, sir. BOB GARFIELD: Major Armando Hernandez is media outreach embed chief for the multinational forces in Iraq.