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[infowar.de] SAEN 15.01.03: Military To Attach Journalists To Front-Line Units If War Breaks Out
San Antonio Express-News
January 15, 2003
Military To Attach Journalists To Front-Line Units If War Breaks Out
By Sig Christenson, Express-News Military Writer
The Pentagon will put hundreds of reporters from the United States and
abroad into front-line military units if conflict comes to Iraq, giving the
American people the best view of war since Vietnam.
Some details of the "embedding" plan remained classified today as
Washington media chiefs met with Pentagon officials to discuss the matter.
It isn't known how many reporters would be assigned to cover Army, Navy,
Air Force and Marine Corps units that likely will be involved in an
invasion of Iraq, though Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the number
would be in the hundreds.
The Defense Department also would not identify units the reporters would be
But Whitman, the plan's Pentagon architect, vowed it would be "very
aggressive," in part because of requests from reporters and bureau chiefs
who have argued for more access to the military, as well as concerns over
Iraqi propaganda ploys.
"We truly believe that having a reporter on the ground will demonstrate the
professionalism and dedication to which the U.S. service member executes
his duties," he told the San Antonio Express-News.
"We know our potential adversary here is Saddam Hussein. We know that
Saddam Hussein is a practiced liar and skilled in the art of
disinformation. What better way to deal with something like that than to
have an objective press corps on the ground reporting on events as they occur?"
The embed plan comes as thousands of American troops are heading into the
region along with an array of lethal hardware. The policy appears to mark a
dramatic U-turn in the Pentagon's rocky relationship with journalists who
have complained of being kept far from the troops in conflicts spanning the
past 20 years.
But the plan, which would place journalists with television and radio
networks, newspaper chains and smaller print outlets close to installations
with troops deploying to the Persian Gulf, falls short of the access
reporters had in Vietnam, the Korean conflict and World War II. Journalists
in those wars roamed the battlefield, but retired Gen. Wesley Clark said
those days are over.
"You have to be linked up to a unit, otherwise you'll get stranded," Clark,
who led the Kosovo air war as NATO's supreme allied commander, said today.
"You're liable to get out in front of the forces and be put in place of
danger, so the embedding plan is the right way to go at least initially."
Whitman stressed that President Bush had made no decision about going to
war with Iraq and compared his efforts to develop an embed plan to the
Pentagon's massing of forces, calling it "prudent planning."
Most of the reporters embedded with military units would be from U.S.-based
media organizations, Whitman said, though some will come from overseas.
Larger media organizations, particularly television networks, are likely to
get more slots because of the variety of programs they offer, Whitman said,
adding, "It's going to be largely up to the various news organizations on
how they want to use their embed opportunities." Local television stations,
newspapers in areas where no troops are deploying and freelance reporters
likely would be given low priority, he said.
Americans who watched gun-camera video from jets and missiles during the
Persian Gulf War might get a much closer, and human, look at aerial
conflict this time around. While reporters won't fly on fighter missions,
they'll almost certainly follow cargo, refueling and humanitarian flights,
and possibly chronicle the work of bomber crews.
A pair of potentially contentious issues - how journalists will file and
what battlefield gear will be supplied by the military - apparently have
Journalists will file stories using laptop computers, satellite phones and
other electronic equipment, though commanders may restrict their use in
certain tactical situations. Troops could be threatened because satellite
phones contain GPS signatures that an enemy might use to pinpoint locations
if the electronic signal is intercepted.
The Pentagon also has decided to outfit reporters with
nuclear-chemical-biological protective gear but asks that they purchase
other items, such as combat helmets and flak jackets.
Two twists to the plan are the possible embedding of American reporters
with coalition units and the creation of pools that could take journalists
into battle areas. Whitman said he met last week with officials from
"coalition partners" he did not identify to discuss embedding reporters
with their troops.
Clark and three former Pentagon officials agreed that the embedding plan is
a departure from past practice.
Tensions have run high between journalists and the Pentagon since the start
of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, where photographers in a press pool
were locked in a warehouse by Marines to stop them from covering injured
The incident sparked the ire of journalists who had long bristled over
their lack of access to the troops during the Persian Gulf War, Panama
incursion and the 1983 invasion of Grenada.
Whitman conceded the matter "could have been handled in a better way" and
said measures were taken to prevent it from happening again. But, he said,
"that's not to say there won't be mistakes in the future, and that there
won't be hiccups in the embedding process necessarily, either, but we're
going to do everything we can to work though all of those as they occur."
Still, Whitman said the Pentagon wanted to accommodate reporters' requests
to cover future military conflicts from a "front-line, from an
on-the-ground, with-a-unit perspective."
"We want to try to accommodate that request," Whitman said, "and that's why
we went to the extent of doing the military-media training, to give
reporters confidence in their ability to be with U.S. military units as
well as develop confidence within our own commanders that reporters have
the basic skills to not compromise their mission or the safety of their
troops on the ground."
Today's antagonism is rooted in Vietnam, Clark said, "because the military
was stuck with the implementation of a very unpopular policy of war and the
journalists ripped at the policy by ripping into the military." Since then,
"the military hasn't trusted the journalists," he said.
Clinton-era Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters said the biggest obstacle
facing journalists this time might be host countries such as Saudi Arabia,
which has long sought to keep reporters out of the country because of fears
of how other Arab states might react, as well as "their own internal
He said if the Pentagon follows through on its embed effort, Americans will
get the best view of its troops since Vietnam. "I think if people are going
to be in front-line units that's substantially more than has been done in a
long time," Peters said.
Ex-Reagan administration Assistant Defense Secretary Lawrence Korb
concurred. He said one reason for a media-friendly Pentagon is high
confidence in the troops in a new war.
"I think they're much more confident this time than they were the last
time. Nobody thought that war would be that easy," Korb said.
"If this is a war that's going to liberate the Iraqi people, if it's a war
that's going to seize and protect the oil fields that'll be the engine of
Iraqi recovery, if in fact in that some places American troops are going to
be welcomed as liberators, I'd like to have the press around to report it,"
said Andrew Krepinevich Jr., a former aide to three defense secretaries who
now heads the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
"I think there's a sense that this is a righteous war, this is a just war,
that we're going to have a good effect on the conditions of the Iraqi
people," he said.
Whitman said he's worked with his boss, Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Public Affairs Victoria Clarke, in developing the plan, and will refine it
until it is finally implemented.
Clarke has "had lots of discussions" about it with Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld, and "I think he is of like mind," Whitman said.
"We're all working toward the same goal," he said. "I think in the end
you'll have to judge us by our actions, not our intentions."
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