Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Embedded Reporting during the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq: How the Embedding of Journalists Affects Television News Reports

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Embedded Reporting during the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq: How the Embedding of Journalists Affects Television News Reports

Article excerpt

The practice of embedding journalists in military units has a long history, dating to the Civil War. However, the scope of embedding in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) has been unprecedented. At the outset of OIF, more than 600 U.S. and foreign journalists reported from aircraft carriers, Special Forces units, infantry, and Marine divisions (McLane, 2004). Before OIF, journalists had never "worked alongside U.S. military un its ... in such numbers [or] in such an organized fashion" (Knickmeyer, 2003, p. 2).

The Pentagon's aggressive and ambitious embedding program was directed by Victoria Clark, a senior spokesperson for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the outset of OIF. She defined the process as "living, eating, moving, in combat with the unit that [the journalist is] attached to" (Department of Defense [DoD] News Transcript, 2003). The DoD's motives for adopting a systematic embedding strategy are not clear. Embedding may have been designed to forcefully preempt misinformation flowing from the Iraqi regime or the Arab press (Brightman, 2003; LaFleur, 2003; Miskin, Rayner, & Lalic, 2003; Purdin & Rutenberg, 2003). Embedding might have been motivated by the sincere desire by DoD officials to showcase U.S. military forces or, as Ms. Clark put it, to let the world "see the U.S. military in a very real and compelling way" (Halonen, 2003, p. 18). The DoD may have wanted to provide access to U.S. and international journalists in order to "facilitate maximum, in-depth coverage of U.S. forces in combat and related operations" (Secretary of Defense, 2003). In an interview with Dick Gordon, from NPR's "The Connection," Bryan Whitman, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, stated that the DoD was working to close the gap between reporters and the media: "An embedded reporter is going to see the good, the bad, and the ugly" (DoD News Transcript, 2003). Or, embedding may have been intended to influence news coverage. It is likely that DoD officials knew of Britain's experience with embedding during the Falklands War against Argentina. Journalists who served alongside British forces during the Falklands War "were completely reliant on the military, not only for access to the battle zone, but for food, shelter, protection, and transmission of their reports" (Miskin et al., 2003, p. 9). Journalists developed "feelings of camaraderie" that may have been responsible for "the favorable coverage of British forces" during the Falkland's campaign (Miskin et al., 2003, pp. 2, 9).

Whatever the motivation, the question is: Did embedding affect news coverage of OIF and, if so, how? Most of the evidence of the effects of embedding is anecdotal, based on the opinions of military leaders and embedded journalists. There are two exceptions. A content analysis of print coverage of the first 5 days of OIF found that embedded reports were more favorable toward the military and its personnel and featured more episodic framing (Pfau et al., 2004), and a content analysis of coverage by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) of the invasion phase of OIF, in conjunction with extensive interviews of British journalists, concluded that although "British broadcasters took care to avoid language that compromised their impartiality," the coverage was favorable toward the government's position on the war and "twice as likely to represent the Iraqi people as welcoming the invasion than as suspicious, reserved, or hostile" (Lewis et al., 2004, p. 25).

There is no definitive evidence about the effects of embedding on U.S. television news reports, and no evidence whatsoever that compares the effects of embedding during the invasion phase of OIF, which most considered a stunning success, versus the occupation/resistance phase of OIF, which has been beset with problems. This investigation examined whether embedding produced television news reports that differed in their tone or structure, and whether the tone or the structure of television news reports varied between the invasion and occupation/resistance phases of OIF or differed across television networks. …

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