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[infowar.de] LAT 4.12.02 Pentagon Plans To Deploy Journalists In Iraq
Los Angeles Times
December 4, 2002
Pentagon Plans To Deploy Journalists In Iraq
In a new media strategy, hundreds of reporters and photographers will be
'embedded' in front-line units in the event of war, officials say.
By Johanna Neuman, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON --The Pentagon, in a departure from recent policy, is
planning to deploy hundreds of print reporters, photographers and
television journalists with front-line U.S. units if there is a war with
Faced with the churn of 24/7 news and the prospect that Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein will mount an effective media campaign of his own,
Pentagon officials have concluded that reporters "embedded" with units
will be more credible witnesses to history than military briefers.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke won't say yet how often, for how
long and with what units reporters might be deployed -- although she
says the Pentagon is contemplating attaching them to air as well as
ground troops, and in the "first wave" of any attack.
"We are absolutely convinced the more news and information that comes
out of Iraq -- if there's military action -- the better off we'll all
be," Clarke said. "It's fine for Torie Clarke to stand up there and say
we went to extraordinary lengths to avoid hitting civilians. It is a far
better thing for a bona fide, credible source of information -- the news
media -- to be saying that based on experience."
The new media strategy is an acknowledgment by the Pentagon that winning
the war of words and images is crucial to the mission in Iraq. But it is
also a concession that the post-Vietnam arrangement for war coverage --
which relied largely on tightly controlled pools of reporters sending
back copy for their briefing-bound colleagues -- hasn't worked for
either journalists or, in some sense, the military.
"This represents a shift away from what we saw following Vietnam -- that
whole philosophy of keeping the press away from the battlefield except
in the most highly controlled manner," said Clarence R. Wyatt, a history
professor at Centre College in Kentucky and author of "Paper Soldiers,"
a book about Vietnam War coverage. "We had examples of pool coverage in
Grenada and Panama, and then that philosophy came to full flower in the
Gulf War. Absolutely, this is an improvement."
It isn't unprecedented for the Pentagon to plant journalists among
combat troops. And these reporters wouldn't be the only source of news
-- media outlets still plan to send journalists to cover an Iraq war
independent of the military, and to cover the briefings expected out of
Qatar. But the new policy may put more reporters with troops in battle
than in any war since World War II, when reporters wore the uniforms of
the units they covered and wrote stories, a la Ernie Pyle, glorifying
the heroism of individual soldiers.
"Certainly this is a step beyond anything in recent memory," said
Kenneth Bacon, a spokesman at the Pentagon during the Clinton
administration. "The key will be how well it works -- whether reporters
get cleared to file."
Some reporters remain skeptical that the Pentagon will actually deliver
the kind of access that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Clarke
have been discussing with Washington bureau chiefs.
In part, that is because of the experience in the U.S. campaign in
Afghanistan, where access to American forces was limited for weeks. And
the media are still smarting over coverage restrictions during the 1991
Persian Gulf War, when journalists saw very little action and some
information -- such as the number of Iraqi civilian casualties -- wasn't
reported until after the war.
Access Is Key
"There's an expression in the military that no plan survives the first
contact with the enemy," CNN reporter Jamie McIntyre said of the
Pentagon's new media strategy. "We didn't get much access in
Afghanistan, and it doesn't look like we're going to get much in Iraq."
Even when journalists agree to ground rules designed to protect
operational security, he argued, the speed of modern technology
frightens commanders in combat. "The more we have capability to go live,
the more nervous they are," he said.
Some in the media worry that the new strategy will skewer coverage,
tilting it toward individual valor instead of providing a comprehensive
picture of war.
"It's a terrible conflict for reporters," said John Fialka, a Wall
Street Journal reporter who wrote a book, "Hotel Warriors," on Gulf War
coverage. "It does not give you good history, which journalism should
But other reporters argue that large-scale access will benefit both the
press and the military. "The promise of such widespread access is an
enormously positive change from where we were at the start of the
Persian Gulf War," said Clark Hoyt, Washington editor for Knight-Ridder
newspapers. "If they follow through and it turns out the way it appears
to be heading, it will give the American people a chance to learn about
war as it unfolds, assuming there is a war, in a way that was simply not
possible during the Persian Gulf War."
Capt. T. McCreary, public affairs advisor to Joint Chiefs of Staff
Chairman Richard B. Myers, said that Afghanistan changed many military
minds about media coverage.
"Afghanistan was the watershed event," he said. "We had an enemy with a
strategy designed to put out false stories in the Arab media. We were
always fighting to keep up. If we don't do this, we will always be
losing the information game. Reacting from Washington to the enemy in
theater is painful."
Jon B. Alterman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International
Studies in Washington, agrees, arguing that the information war is the
only real weapon available to the Iraqi president.
"He can't win militarily, although he can try to make it painful for us,
and he can't win diplomatically, because even his friends distrust him,"
Alterman said. "What he has done reasonably well for 12 years is to
create images -- images of starving children."
To prepare for the invasion of journalists, the Pentagon recently
conducted a "boot camp" for reporters and plans another this month -- a
two-week drill session instructing them on such issues as how to use a
camera without giving away troop locations to the enemy and how to
survive a chemical weapons attack.
Ever since Vietnam, the media and the Pentagon have fought over access.
In the Gulf War, the two sides agreed to a pool system. Robbed of access
to important battles, reporters chafed at the restrictions. In the
opening days of the Gulf War, CBS' Bob Simon and his crew ventured near
the Saudi-Iraqi border on their own and were captured by the Iraqis.
After the Gulf War, reporters expressed anger at the Pentagon for
restricting access to the battlefield. But polls -- to say nothing of a
"Saturday Night Live" skit that belittled reporters for asking stupid
questions -- found that most Americans supported the military.
Mission the Priority
"The bottom line is, you've got to accomplish your mission,"
then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said just after the war. "You've got
to do it at the lowest possible cost in terms of American lives. And
that takes precedence over how you deal with the press."
Now, senior Pentagon officials have calculated that saturating the media
with access to U.S. forces will serve as a buffer against the latest
"weapon" in enemy hands: access to Qatari-based Al Jazeera television
and other Arab news outlets.
"In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, there was a great degree of skill
in news management," Rumsfeld told bureau chiefs recently. The Taliban
and Al Qaeda put their military facilities "in close proximity to
hospitals and nursing homes and schools and sympathy-engendering
The Pentagon may also have realized that placing reporters with U.S.
troops will serve to tell the story of personal heroics that is largely
missing from the files of the Gulf War.
As Knight-Ridder's Hoyt said, "A lot of the military were disappointed
at the lack of coverage and opportunity for people back home --
families, colleagues -- to know in some firsthand eyewitness way what
they had achieved."
HSFK Hessische Stiftung f=FCr Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
PRIF Peace Research Institute Frankfurt
Leimenrode 29 60322 Frankfurt a/M Germany
Tel +49 (0)69 9591 0422 Fax +49 (0)69 5584 81
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