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[] Newsweek 10.03.03: In Bed With The Pentagon,

Newsweek March 10, 2003 Pg. 45

In Bed With The Pentagon

By Jonathan Alter

I spent a few days in December on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf. My 
bunkmates were Palestinian journalists from the Mideast Broadcasting Co. 
(MBC), all of whom acknowledged that they refer to suicide bombers in their 
reports from the occupied territories as "freedom fighters." Hmmm ... It 
turns out these guys (or their colleagues) are going to be hanging with 
U.S. forces again when the shooting in Iraq starts. But that's a smart 
thing for the military to allow.

Under its new policy, the Pentagon will "embed" 500 correspondents for up 
to two months with American combat units, 20 percent of whom come from the 
foreign press. Will some media "embeds" end up "in bed" with their military 
protectors? Will others be so hostile they are forced to leave? Not clear, 
but one thing we know: for now, anyway, the anger that military officers 
felt toward the news media during the Vietnam War has subsided. They need 
every reporter in the regionno matter how skepticalto help fight Saddam 
Hussein in what may be the mother of all propaganda wars.

Everyone agrees: the 1991 gulf war was a disaster for military-media 
relations. Reporters were mostly cooped up at an air base in Saudi Arabia 
with little to do but complain about censorship. Access to the battlefield 
was extremely limited, and the Pentagon lied about the success of the 
Patriot missiles. When it was over, reporters weren't the only ones who 
were sore. The U.S. Army smashed Saddam's Republican Guard in a great tank 
battle, and no press was present to report its success story. "What's the 
government afraid of?" John Chancellor, the late NBC News anchor, told me 
at the time. "They should trust us."

This time they do, up to a point. The military embedded correspondents on a 
limited basis in Afghanistan and is now ready to give the press more access 
than in any conflict since Vietnam. "It's the Powell Doctrine of 
coverageoverwhelming force," says Andy Rosenthal, assistant managing editor 
of The New York Times. "When you're offered all of this access, you have to 
take it." Because it's hard to keep soldiers (or anyone else) from 
eventually talking, the press should get a much fuller picture of what it's 
like to fight. The Pentagon, especially Assistant Secretary Victoria 
Clarke, deserves credit for devising about as good a solution to the 
logistics of combat coverage as the press could ask for.

Most of the ground rules that embedded reporters must sign seem reasonable, 
like not carrying a sidearm, not using flash photography at night and not 
reporting the unit's exact position. This time, there will be no censorship 
of stories and TV scripts. The truth is, it's just not practical anymore. 
Wireless communications has killed military censorship for good. Embedded 
reporters don't tend to be troublemakers in the field, anyway. If they 
endanger the unit, they know they're endangering themselves. Even live 
satellite coverage will be allowed (with a public-affairs officer present), 
making it quite possible that viewers will see people killed in real time. 
That should give the media ethicists something to chew on.

Yet there's still something subtly coercive about the new policy: if you 
travel with a group over a period of weeks, especially one that is 
providing you protection from chemical or biological attack, you're more 
likely to stay loyal to the people you're with. (This will be tested, of 
course, if things go badly wrong.) And then there's the question of just 
how much actual fighting most will witness. The Pentagon says it wants 
reporters in tanks and planes (though obviously not in the one- and 
two-seat fighters that will handle most of the action). But it'll be the 
luck of the draw. Some correspondents and crews will see lots of bang-bang; 
others may wonder why they went to the trouble of playing half soldiertold 
to carry everything from a sleeping bag to two boxes of baby wipes for 
battlefield "showers"only to be marooned away from the action or under a 
squadron commander who overprotects them.

All of which explains why NEWSWEEK and most other major news organizations 
have correspondents roaming the region freely as well as embedded with 
troops. It's like campaign coverage; you need some reporters on the plane 
with the candidates and others out talking to voters. One big question is 
how the military will treat reporters who aren't embedded. When Doug Struck 
of The Washington Post tried to investigate civilian casualties in 
Afghanistan, he was forced by U.S. soldiers to lie down with a gun pointed 
at his head.

That could happen again. Truth will forever be the first casualty of war. 
But maybe this time the military can stay focused on its larger aimmaking 
sure that Saddam doesn't get away with lies about the effects of U.S. 
bombing. "What better way to combat those lies than having impartial 
observers right there?" Lt. Col. Mike Halbig told me. Even the Arab crews 
from places like MBC and Al-Jazeera will at least broadcast the good 
pictures they get with the Americans. They'll toss in their spin, but TV 
picturesas the U.S. military has finally learnedspeak louder than the words 
of some official behind a podium.

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