Military officials admit to “using” embedded journalists
- At a recent conference held at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., combat officers and journalists discussed the military value of embedded reporters.
Sep. 10, 2003 — When the Pentagon invited more than 700 journalists to live and travel with various U.S. military units during the war in Iraq, the Defense Department’s self-interests were clear to most news gatherers.
But at a recent three-day conference held at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., those interests were actually spelled out, as combat officers and formerly embedded journalists discussed the media’s role in overthrowing the Iraqi government.
“We’ve turned the media into a mechanism for communicating information from the action to the consumer, including the enemy,” said Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to a recent Reuters story. “What we don’t engage in is deception or manipulation.”
Yet when the Iraqi government, in an effort to rally its troops, reported that the allied forces were being stymied hundreds of miles from Baghdad, a U.S. Army commander gathered journalists to cover an orchestrated operation through the capital to show the world just how close the Americans were to victory.
“I just wanted them to report what happened,” Col. David Perkins, who led the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade’s made-for-TV run through Bagdad, according to Reuters. “If having the media report accurately is using them, then they were used.”
John Burnett, a correspondent for National Public Radio who was embedded in the 1st Marine Division, says the U.S. military knew it would receive good press by having reporters traveling with troops. By controlling access to Iraqis, Burnett says the one-sided accounts of the war inadvertently led to the promotion of American patriotism. Fewer than two dozen reporters are still embedded with U.S. troops, as most journalists have been traveling on their own since the end of major combat.
Despite the fact that a military commander at the conference, held in late August, referred to live media coverage of certain military operations as a “team” effort, some network executives say reporters were never unduly influenced by living with soldiers.
“They’re journalists; they’re paid to be objective,” said Sandy Genelius, vice president of communications for CBS News. “That’s what they did from the beginning and that’s what they continued to do.”
Genelius added that embedded reporters were getting “one tiny slice of what was going on,” but that journalists in different military units saw different aspects of the war, resulting in an accurate account.
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press