BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Black Hawk Down opens later this month. It's a war movie starring Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor about what is widely perceived as an American military disaster -- the 1993 raid in Mogadishu, Somalia in which two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters were shot down, 18 soldiers killed, and more than 70 injured. Hundreds of Somalians also died that day.
CLIP FROM Black Hawk DOWN
MAN: [SHOUTING] 6 - 1 - I'm going down!
MAN OVER RADIO: 6 - 1 is going down. He's hit. He is hit.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The movie is based on the book by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mark Bowden that meticulously traces through eyewitness accounts and leaked documents the events leading up to that terrorism day. Mark, welcome to the show.
MARK BOWDEN: Thanks, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now your book was about a mission in Somalia where 18 American soldiers died. Did the military turn even more skittish about giving out information after that?
MARK BOWDEN: Well they were already pretty skittish. One of the reasons, I think, that so few Americans really knew anything about the Battle of Mogadishu is that there were no reporters in-country when this happened.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Just one, I think. Paul Watson?
MARK BOWDEN:Well there was a fellow from the Toronto Star, Paul Watson. He was there mostly, as I understand it, as a photographer. But there were no American reporters present.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now we went back and looked at the coverage at the time. It was immediate. There wasn't any effort to cover up that something had gone seriously wrong, and within a day Paul Watson's pictures of an American serviceman being dragged through the streets were all over the world. Did people within the military say we can't be embarrassed like that again?
MARK BOWDEN: Well you know it wasn't so much, Brooke, people in the military. You know, it was the political establishment. In fact, in this case, the Pentagon had requested what's known as an AC-130 gunship which is really kind of hard to hide. If the president had authorized it, it would have attracted I think a lot of press back into the country. So in this case, it was a political decision to refuse the Pentagon's request for the AC-130 primarily because I believe the White House was worried that it would attract a lot of media attention. But there's no question that in modern times the military has decided to keep journalists away from special ops units like the Rangers and Delta Force, and since most of our deployments around the world involves these special ops units, it's had the effect of basically journalists being kept far away from any military action.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:I understand that most every cadet at West Point and midshipmen at Annapolis has read your book, but you didn't get much official cooperation. What did you have to do when you were writing the book to get access to the tapes, the records and the flight logs that you used to reconstruct the battle?
MARK BOWDEN: Well, they were leaked. The information came not from any official source but from individuals who had been involved in the fight.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Pentagon gave you no problems when you used that same material to reconstruct the battle on film?
MARK BOWDEN:On film, no. Interestingly the Pentagon at that point had no objection. Theoretically all of the information about this battle or much of it is classified. Delta Force itself which is depicted in the movie is a unit so classified the Army doesn't even acknowledge it exists, and yet they were willing to come out and assist in the making a movie - of a movie that depicts the characters and the action of these soldiers very accurately. So there are no hard and fast rules here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Sometimes, with movies like Top Gun or Pearl Harbor, the military cooperates because they think it's good public relations. What about the movie version of Black Hawk Down?
MARK BOWDEN: They've probably made a good judgment in this case in terms of, you know, their own interests, because I suspect that while it tells the story of a, of a military mission that basically had the plug pulled on it and was not perfect by any means, it captures the nobility of soldiers in combat and their service. So I think that's why they cooperated, and I think while people watching the movie will receive it in many different ways, my hunch is that young men will be--inspired by it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mark Bowden, thank you very much.
MARK BOWDEN: You're welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mark Bowden is the author of Black Hawk Down. The movie based on the book arrives in theaters across the country this month.