Vested Interests

Western war correspondents are vividly aware of 
the message sent by their flak jackets, but their 
Israeli counterparts continue to sport a careless 
look when the missiles fall.

Roni Daniel, military affairs correspondent for Channel 2 news.
Channel 2 screenshot

When the cannons roar, fashion falls silent. Such, at least, is the impression created by the field reporters on Israel’s news channels as they dash between rocketed cities, army bases and studios buckling under the weight of endless chatter (with preference given to broadcasters in suits and interviewees in uniform or open-necked shirts). Hysteria, immediacy and danger – elements that were not experienced by the classic war correspondents of the 20th century – are apparently the only accessories available to men in times like these.

That’s just the opposite of what the Amazon website has on offer. “Stay calm and carry on,” Amazon urges men who are looking for a classic bag. The product in question is a “stone-washed-brown cotton canvas shoulder bag” priced at only $28.99. The design of the Go Bag, as it’s known, was inspired by H. Hamilton Fyfe, the distinguished London Times war correspondent who traveled with the Allied forces in World War II. “Fyfe was never without his Go Bag, tough enough to protect contents, yet easy to carry,” we are told. In fact, this is probably the right accessory with which to start a sketch of the colorful classic war correspondent: a carryall “constructed in unwashed, wear-resistant, heavyweight canvas,” almost like army field bags, with pouches for holding clothes, a laptop and other obligatory items and gadgets.

Ernest Hemingway was probably the most famous war correspondent of all. Arriving in Spain in 1937 to cover the civil war for an American newspaper chain, he immediately became a style icon who influenced generations of war correspondents that followed. 
Hemingway sported khaki shirts, outsize multi-pocket shirts and in general wore outfits that were a cross between semi-military attire and American casual elegance. Not surprisingly, then, Woolrich, the Pennsylvania-based outdoor clothing company, came out two years ago with an entire collection based on the Hemingway style, including military jackets with plentiful pockets and chino and khaki trousers. Included in the collection was one of the items most identified with war correspondents everywhere: the protective vest, or flak jacket.

“The flak jacket has now become the symbol of almost every television reporter at war,” Robert Fisk, the veteran war correspondent of Britain’s The Independent, wrote in March 2012. But after almost four decades of covering combat arenas, Fisk was also critical of the iconic garb. “I’ve nothing against flak jackets,” he noted. “I wore one in Bosnia. But I’ve been increasingly discomfited by all these reporters in their blue spacesuits, standing among and interviewing the victims of war, who have no such protection.” The popular impression is “that the lives of Western reporters are somehow more precious, more deserving, more inherently valuable than those of the ‘foreign’ civilians who suffer around them.”

Which is perhaps the reason why the photograph of the boy from Gaza who wore a press helmet and a plastic bag in lieu of a flak jacket became one of the iconic images of the conflict between Hamas and Israel. “I’m a journalist. I am reporting on what is happening here, and this is my flak jacket,” the boy told the Swedish correspondent who took his picture. Widely circulated on the social networks, the image encapsulated the melancholy story of children in war zones.

And then there are the Israeli correspondents. If the broadcasters and anchors in the TV studios are obliged to wear suits and ties, the military correspondents who report from the front are soldiers on the battlefield. For example, Orr Heller of Channel 10 is usually attired in dark clothes, with masculine shirts or polo shirts, above which he wears his flak jacket (also black) and a helmet when he enters the heart of darkness. Channel 2’s minister of war, Roni Daniel, tends to wear outsize masculine shirts of the kind that are unbuttoned at the top and recall the macho Hemingway style. Nir Devori, a Channel 2 military reporter, has been observed wearing shirts of garish colors under his flak jacket; whereas Amir Ben David of i24 News, takes care to wear shirts that fit him (hurray! victory on one front) or fashionable body-hugging T-shirts.

Israeli correspondents have never managed to acquire saliently stylish attributes of the sort that Hemingway and others developed in the last century. They have, rather, successfully cultivated banality in both the country’s few periods of peace and its many times of war. The protective vest they are obliged to don when they enter the Gaza Strip always seems to be a necessary burden. Nor do they take heed of the fact that people are watching them and that they are part of a journalistic history with dress and style codes (even in wartime). Look at Hemingway. A journalistic assignment (especially on television) calls for a style of dress, not just battle cries.

Consider Anderson Cooper, the CNN anchor, who was in Israel during one of the recent wars in Gaza and arrived in the country fashionably late last week again. Considered a modern style icon, at least on television, Cooper is perhaps the best example of a newscaster who dresses meticulously and distinctively. From the tailor-made suits (tailor-made for slim, as befits an American journalist who lives in Chelsea) to the well-coiffed silver-grey hair, Anderson is a paragon of the modern American style of a fashionable broadcaster (maybe too fashionable, some would say) in glittering studios and dark battle zones alike. It doesn’t hurt that his mother was Gloria Vanderbilt – from the famous family – a socialite and fashion designer who made her son, from childhood, a fashion symbol of New York society.

And if we can link fashion with war, it’s essential to mention camouflage, which year after year is a highlight of men’s fashion shows and of top brands around the world. As the Israeli army has hardly ever used those colors, maybe it’s time to introduce them into the legitimate fashion canon, and outfit our intrepid reporters in some of the hot items on the market, whether camouflage sneakers by Valentino or camouflage-print shirts of brands like Acne Studios and A.P.C. No one knows when the next war will strike, so it’s best to be prepared.