[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[infowar.de] CSM 23.04.03: The Other Boots On The Ground: Embedded Press
Christian Science Monitor
April 23, 2003
The Other Boots On The Ground: Embedded Press
By Liz Marlantes, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
WASHINGTON It wasn't until the end of Ron Harris's six-week tour with the
7th Regiment that the embedded journalist got marines to open up - and
share what they thought about reporters.
"One guy - a first sergeant - told me, 'Ron, when I heard you guys were
coming, I was not happy,' " recalls Mr. Harris, a reporter for the St.
Louis Post-Dispatch. " 'But,' he said, 'you guys have been great.' He said
he really learned a lot about how journalists work and what they are like -
and it wasn't what he thought."
As US troops begin to pull out of Iraq, so are many of the reporters who
took part in what has been called the Pentagon's most ambitious media
experiment. Throughout the war, some 600 journalists have been embedded
with various units. They - and, by extension, the public back home - have
witnessed the conflict from assorted positions and vantage points on the
Those on both sides praise the program for giving reporters an unusual
degree of access and providing an unvarnished look at the war. Yet many
reporters also found the program offered frustratingly narrow views of the
action - and some worry that it engendered one-sided coverage.
Still, almost all agree embedding has had a positive impact on one area:
While there should always be some distance between reporters and the
subjects they cover, the gap between the media and the military has in
recent years become a chasm.
With the rise of an all-volunteer military, and with fewer and fewer
journalists volunteering, one upside to embedding is that it essentially
offered journalists a crash course in military service. The program gave
many reporters a first-hand understanding of how the military conducts
warfare, and, many say, a greater respect for service members. Similarly,
the troops and commanding officers in the field had a chance to observe the
dedication and professionalism of journalists - and see them in a more
"This was a very valuable experiment, in having the military ... perhaps
discover that reporters are people, too, and vice versa," says Chris
Hanson, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland and a former
Pentagon reporter. "I think this might help media-military relations in the
future, and cut back on the mutual stereotyping that has been a problem for
Lessons from Vietnam
Much of that stereotyping first emerged as a result of the Vietnam War. In
that conflict, reporters had perhaps the greatest access of any war to
date. They moved freely between centralized briefings and the battlefield,
essentially embedding (though the term hadn't been invented) for a few days
at a time, with whatever unit they chose.
The result, in the military's eyes, was an unmitigated disaster. Not only
did the coverage bring the horrors of war into the living rooms of
Americans, but reporters also uncovered numerous discrepancies between what
was said at headquarters and what happened on the ground.
Many in the military blamed the press for the loss of the war, arguing that
the negative coverage undermined public support. Meanwhile, reporters grew
far more distrustful of the military over the course of the conflict.
In subsequent wars, such as Grenada and Panama, the military all but shut
the press out. During the first Gulf War, the media was forced to rely on a
pool system for coverage, embedding just a small number of journalists who
then filed dispatches back to the press at large - often days late. "That
led to a great deal of antagonism," says Mr. Hanson, who was one of the
pool reporters in that war, writing for Hearst Newspapers.
A program is born
By the time the second Iraq war rolled around, it had become clear to both
sides that a highly restrictive system like a press pool would no longer work.
For one thing, the military had begun to realize that it might be
advantageous to have more reporters on the ground - both to document the
heroic efforts of US troops, many of which had gone unnoticed in the first
Gulf War, and to counter what they knew would be a strong Iraqi propaganda
effort. In addition, the advent of new technology - such as satellite and
video phones - meant that reporters would likely find ways to cover the
conflict on their own, regardless of approval.
In creating the embedding program, "We said, what is it we need to do,
given the type of conflict we're going to be engaged in, the global
information environment we find ourselves in ... and the way we knew the
war would be covered," explains Bryan Whitman, the deputy assistant
secretary of Defense for media operations, who was in charge of executing
Many of the embedded reporters had never covered a war before, let alone
served in the military. To some, this widespread lack of experience,
combined with the reporters' tendency to bond with the units, gave much of
the coverage a cheerleading tone.
George Wilson, who covered Vietnam for the Washington Post, and was
embedded in this war with a marine artillery unit, saw a lot of the
coverage as "looking around and telling the reader: These are magnificent
kids, and I'm here in the dirt with them and I'm eating MREs [meals, ready
to eat], and I'm sleeping in the sand." There's nothing inherently wrong
with that kind of reporting, Mr. Wilson says, but because it was so
dominant, the larger story - namely, the near absence of organized
resistance - was lost amid all the "purple prose."
Still, other observers note that embedded reporting didn't always follow
the Pentagon line, particularly when things went wrong. Early in the
conflict, embedded journalists offered a dramatic look at the attacks on
supply lines, for example. The Monitor's Ann Scott Tyson, embedded with the
3rd Infantry Division, reported that the Army nearly ran out of food and
ammunition, due to poor planning.
A greater level of trust
There was also a handful of cases, according to Mr. Whitman, where embedded
reporters violated the terms of their agreement and were ejected. The most
publicized incidents along those lines involved nonembedded reporters, such
as Fox's Geraldo Rivera, who drew a map on camera indicating troop
positions, or Monitor freelancer Phil Smucker, who was accused of revealing
troop locations in a TV interview.
But Whitman says his department regards those cases as "mistakes" rather
than willful violations, and says he believes the program has led to a
greater overall level of trust between the military and the media on the whole.
Most embedded journalists say they felt welcomed in their units from the
start, and that the troops generally warmed up to them within a few days.
Still, they encountered plenty of curiosity - even incredulity - about the
risks they took for the sake of a story.
"They thought it was ludicrous that I would go into a fight without a gun,"
says Peter Sleeth, an embedded reporter for the Portland Oregonian.
And while some enlistees and, more typically, senior officers were wary of
having reporters in their midst, others were pleased at the chance to get
their name in the paper. Being written about meant two things, explains the
Post-Dispatch's Harris: Their families might read it, and thereby know
they're OK; and after all this is over, they'll be able to pick up the
paper and say " 'See, I was there.' "
Indeed, most embedded reporters wound up serving as a direct link between
service members and their families back home. "A side benefit to all this
is that the families of all these soldiers think I'm a hero," says Mr.
Sleeth. Families tracked the movements of their loved ones through
newspaper articles and TV reports, and many journalists were flooded with
e-mails from family members, often asking them to communicate messages.
Most reporters also loaned their satellite phones to enlistees for quick
While military families may have appreciated this detailed tracking of
units, many critics, and even some supporters of the embedding program,
found much of the coverage myopic. Few embedded reporters, critics charge,
were able to give a sense of the war as a whole.
Mr. Wilson of the National Journal compares his assignment to being the
second dog in a dog sled, with the ability to see only what lies directly
ahead and behind. He says having his own vehicle might have helped
somewhat, giving him the ability to pursue certain stories on his own -
though he notes that it was impossible to move too far afield without being
Poor coverage at home
But to many, the fault lies less with the journalists than with their news
organizations, for failing to put the reporting in a broader context. The
media failed to fully explore the political and diplomatic angles of the
war, says Harris. While in Kuwait, waiting for the war to begin, he says,
"I was terribly disappointed in the coverage [at home]."
And while the embedded reports were largely positive, observers note that
this may in part reflect the fact that the war went so well for the US - as
have all conflicts since the Vietnam War.
"Since Vietnam, we've not suffered major casualties - and that has made a
big difference in coverage of war," notes Charles Moskos, a military
sociologist at Northwestern University. "But what if something terrible
happened, like we lost 300 people in one day? What would be the media
The relationship between the media and the military may ride far more on
how military operations are going than how much time the two have spent
together in tents and bunkers.
"I'd say the military and the press will be somewhat closer [when all this
is over]," ventures Sleeth. "But then, we didn't have much of a war."
Mail an infowar -
- infopeace -
de mit "unsubscribe" im Text.