Michael's Dispatches

Even as the World Watched III: Getting Hit to Get the Shot

Bullets fly fast

Published: 07 July 2010
Chiang Mai, Thailand

During the Bangkok fighting in May, radio interviewers back America kept asking about the overuse of force by the Thai Army.  I answered that’s not happening, and there seem to be hundreds of journalists crawling over the streets, and I see them with cameras on tripods on balconies (like mine was) or peering through windows.  How could the Thai government hide a herd of elephants in front of all those cameras?

Inside the Red Shirt camp

If there was a slaughter—where are the photos and videos?

There was a curfew at night but many journalists could see the streets from their rooms – I know because many were neighbors -- and the Red Shirts had their own phones and radios, and cameras.  If the Thai Army were performing a slaughter, we would have caught it.

If the Army committed atrocities with probably hundreds of journalists present, and nobody caught it, then we are all incompetent.  This is Pulitzer territory.  If a journalist catches the Army on film executing people, or murdering people who are trying to surrender, that journalist is in for some sort of prize.   If a journalist is not guided by morality, he definitely would be fired by ambition.  Morality, ambition, or both would have demanded exposure.

A huge message can be falsely conveyed with five true words: Thai Army.  Protestors.  Eighty-eight killed.

What I saw—any journalist who was there who missed this should be labeled incompetent—was a large group of protestors with honest grievances, and a small group of agitators who clearly, unmistakably, were seeking violent confrontation with the government.  These agitators were throwing firebombs, committing arson, and shooting grenades and small arms.  (The preponderance of evidence was overwhelming—plus I saw them with my own eyes committing some of these acts and photographed agitators in action.)

There are journalists both foreign and Thai who dismiss these agitators and hold the line that the violence was due to the Thai government.

Important note: I make no representation about what happened before or elsewhere, only here and now.  Much of the here and now reporting was flatly wrong, bringing question upon previous reporting.

The photo above was taken during actual clearance operations.  The Red Shirts were at this point being compressed like a piston.  Combat-experienced people know what usually happens when an adversary is compressed like a piston.  Either they will begin to surrender or will fire.  They fired.

Enormous respect is owed to the courageous journalists who stayed and kept the Army honest.  It’s only realistic that with such large numbers around, and bullets flying, journalists are probably going to get hit.

Sometimes you get killed because you willingly went into combat:

CPJ calls for Thailand to investigate journalist killings.

Unidentified photographer: Have seen the New York Times use panoramic cameras like that in Iraq.

Often just a waiting game.  This was inside what had just been the Red camp.

One night there was heavy gunfire and also I could see firebombs coming from the Red Shirt camp, and plenty of dangerous fireworks.  (The firebombs that I saw were only going into the street.)  One firework came straight at my window and hit low on a floor below.  These were not gigantic fireworks but if you got hit, at a minimum you were going to the hospital.  They were easily as deadly as bullets.  If you got hit in the foot, your foot would be mangled.  Hit in the head, probably dead or mentally incapacitated from there out.  During daytime, I had seen a firework barely miss some journalists, and when the rockets hit buildings they sometimes blew off small pieces of structure.   Nothing serious unless you took a hit.  Like bullets.  Some people argued that protestors only had fireworks.  How many people might have been seriously wounded or even killed by those rockets and other projectiles?

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