Summer 2003

The View From Inside the Military

Embedding of journalists was an experiment. How did it work?

“Not unlike covering a statehouse or Congress, you get cozy with the people you cover. They take you into their confidence. You end up self-censoring for obvious reasons. You’re at ground zero—no one with an ounce of sense is going to betray sensitive information. And you don’t want to get innocent people killed.”

—Walter Rodgers, veteran CNN correspondent traveling with the Army’s 7th Cavalry, quoted in the March 22, 2003 Washington Post story, “Reports With a Troop’s-Eye-View: For Embedded Correspondents, the Small Picture Is Big News,” by Howard Kurtz.



“I acknowledge the right of an army to exploit the media to confuse the enemy. But it is our job not to fall for it. I do, therefore, share a concern that, with so many reporters deployed in Iraq, some of them novices in the art of reporting warfare, our profession may be at greater hazard than usual of being a channel for disinformation. That’s where the news executive comes in. He must counteract that downside. He has to brief his team. And he has to ensure that he deploys some roaming reporters—Reuters has 20 very brave journalists in Baghdad working independently and 23 more in southern and northern Iraq—to try to balance, if not verify, what the ‘embeds’ are saying. … Finally, the news executive needs a vigilant—and skeptical—editing desk supported by specialist writers. I go back to Doon Campbell on D-Day, ‘How to convey even a tiny detail of this mighty mosaic.’ No one battlefield reporter can ever make sense of a war. The challenge for a news organization is to gather and meld the fragments into a coherent and, you hope, accurate and impartial whole.”

Geert Linnebank, editor in chief of Reuters, in an op-ed, “Counteract Drawbacks of ‘Embedded’ Reporters,” published in USA Today on March 31, 2003.



“Embedding is for the journalist who wants access and is prepared to pay a price to get it. But for those who worry about the blurring of the line between government and journalism, even in the post-9/11 war against terrorism, there is the larger problem of patriotic reporting. Will journalists covering the front or the White House criticize the mission, the troops, the President, or the strategy in the face of strong popular support for the war? Or will the public have to wait months, even years, after the war to learn about the blunders?

“September 11, 2001, is the dividing line in journalism between purists and realists. Purists may still worry about the problems of embedding and patriotism; realists say the rules have now changed, and it’s time we all recognize we are in a war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq and one against terrorism at home. And journalists may have to bend with the winds of change.”

—Marvin Kalb, excerpted from an article he wrote, “Journalists Torn Between Purism and Patriotism: Marvin Kalb Explores New Realities of War Reporting,” published in Editor & Publisher on March 24, 2003.



“The challenge of knowing so much and being able to say only in general terms what you do know in a live or nearly live broadcast is extraordinarily difficult. I’m holding in my head all the information at the same time as I’m censoring myself, ad-libbing to the host in Washington who is asking questions that I could easily answer and give away information that would break the ground rules. For the TV people doing it from the frontlines, it must be even more challenging.”

Jack Laurence, with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, reporting for Esquire and filing reports for NPR, quoted in an April 7, 2003 article, “Veteran reporters go to war. Ted Koppel and Jack Laurence, both 63, are in Iraq. Koppel tells what enticed him. Laurence compares this war’s challenges with Vietnam’s,” by Elizabeth Jensen, Los Angeles Times.



“Just look at the story William Branigin of The Washington Post filed last week while being embedded with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. Soldiers in that division killed seven women and children in a car the troops said failed to stop, despite commands and warning shots. Branigin’s story quoted Capt. Ronny Johnson, who ordered the warning shots, as subsequently telling his platoon leader, ‘You just ... killed a family because you didn’t fire a warning shot soon enough!’ The Pentagon has ordered an investigation, but I suspect that military brass wasn’t happy with Branigin’s account—and we should be grateful for it, an account we would not have had if he had not been embedded. For now, embedding is giving us a rare window on war. The critics should stop carping.”

Los Angeles Times media critic David Shaw, from his April 6, 2003 article, “Media Matters: Embedded Reporters Make for Good Journalism.”



“It now appears that unilateral reporters cannot operate in Iraq with the current security situation without being sort of unofficially embedded with troops, or at least being able to camp at night near them. Unilaterals have had mortars and RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] fired at them by Iraqi troops. Lack of supply is also an enormous problem. Unilaterals who are up closer to Baghdad are having to abandon their vehicles as they cannot source gasoline to keep them running, even with military help (the military runs on diesel, and there are no diesel vehicles to rent in Kuwait where people started, hence the problem). I hear a small group of unilaterals up there are actually siphoning the last of their gas into one vehicle, getting in together, and trying to make it to Baghdad in that vehicle.”

—Laurie Goering, a unilateral reporter with the Chicago Tribune, who was in southern Iraq and serving as local bureau chief for embedded and unembedded journalists. From a March 26, 2003 article, “Unembedded Reporters Face Grave Dangers: Chicago Trib Reporter Offers Chilling Account” by Greg Mitchell, in Editor & Publisher.



“I’m not sure this is a workable arrangement—the whole embed process. I think it’s an unnatural way to practice journalism. But one of the good things to come out of this is that the whole experience has helped I think bridge the gap of distrust between the military and the media that is going to yield better defense reporting in the future. Because they’re going to be more open with the media, and I think we’ll understand them better. It’s been a fascinating experiment.”

—John Burnett, one of NPR’s embedded correspondents during the war in Iraq, from an April 11, 2003 interview with Brooke Gladstone on NPR’s “On the Media.”



“Who knows how much the embedded reporters saw? Did we see eight percent of what happened? Did we see four percent of what happened? It’s arguable they didn’t see a double-digit percentage of what happened.”

—Eric Sorenson, president of MSNBC, quoted in the April 20, 2003 New York Times article, “Spectacular Success or Incomplete Picture?” by Jim Rutenberg and Bill Carter.


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