Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The "I" of Embedded Reporting: An Analysis of CNN Coverage of the "Shock and Awe" Campaign

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The "I" of Embedded Reporting: An Analysis of CNN Coverage of the "Shock and Awe" Campaign

Article excerpt

The practice of embedding reporters with troops during the 2003 Iraq War was both cheered and jeered by professional journalists as well as by media critics and scholars (Bucy, 2003; Ewers, 2003; Gralnick, 2003; "How Embedded," 2003; Kalb, 2003; Mitchell & Berman, 2003; Mohl, 2003; Powers, 2003; Ricchiardi, 2003; Strupp, 2003; Wycliff, 2003). Some saw embedded reporting as a unique opportunity to provide firsthand reports of the war and considered it a welcome change from the pooled press coverage of the previous Persian Gulf War (Bucy, 2003; Ewers, 2003; "How Embedded," 2003; Mitchell & Berman, 2003; Ricchiardi, 2003; Strupp, 2003; Wycliff, 2003). But concerns were also expressed that the embedded reporters were not truly independent (Bucy, 2003; Ewers, 2003; Gralnick, 2003; "How Embedded," 2003; Kalb, 2003; Mitchell & Berman, 2003). Some mused that embedded reporters may have served more as public relations tools for the military than as independent journalists (Bucy, 2003; Ewers, 2003; Kalb, 2003; Ricchiardi, 2003). Others worried that even those journalists intent on being objective would have a difficult time maintaining their objectivity given their physical and likely emotional closeness to their embedded troops (Ewers, 2003; Gralnick, 2003; Mohl, 2003; Ricchiardi, 2003; Wycliff, 2003).

Of particular concern was that embedded journalists' objectivity was jeopardized as they became part of the story (Ricchiardi, 2003). "The hundreds of embedded journalists aren't just reporting on this war; they're serving as surrogates for all civilians. And they've given the story a visceral immediacy, a that-could-be-me feeling" (Powers, 2003, p. 932). Ricchiardi noted reporters' references to themselves during the early stages of the war: "Breathless television reporters often made themselves the story" (p. 30).

Objectivity as a Journalistic Norm

Objective reporting is characterized as being neutral, unbiased, and balanced ("Code of Ethics," n.d.; Fedler, 1998; Gallagher, 1998; Sigal, 1986; Ward, 1999), and void of personal ideology and values ("Code of Ethics," n.d.; Gans, 1980; Sigal, 1986), opinions (Tuchman, 1972), and impressions (Schudson, 1995). Journalistic objectivity is a professional norm (Breed, 1955; "Code of Ethics," n.d.) seen by journalists as both an individual responsibility of the reporter and a collective responsibility of the profession (Breed, 1955; Gans, 1980; Schudson, 1995). News professionals say they strive to be objective in their reporting (Efron, 1972; Gallagher, 1998; Gans, 1980; Herman & Chomsky, 1988; Schudson, 1995).

This, of course, has not always been the case. The press used to be partisan, often fiercely so (Baldasty, 1998; Gans, 1980). Objective reporting became a standard practice of journalism in the mid-19th century (Gallagher, 1998; Schudson, 1978, 1995), in part because it proved to be economically successful (Gallagher, 1998), particularly as it appealed to advertisers who wanted to reach a larger audience than a partisan press would allow (Baldasty, 1998). In addition, the Associated Press formed during this time when a group of New York newspapers joined to share the costs of telegraph reports (Schwarzlose, 1998a, 1998b; Sterling & Kittross, 2002). Objective content was more suitable for those shared reports, given the diverse partisan views of the different newspapers in the association (Gans, 1980).

Since that time, news professionals have come to adopt objectivity as an essential component of sound reporting. Objectivity is considered to be one of the most important news values, at the very core of journalistic credibility (Fedler, 1998; Gallagher, 1998; Gans, 1980; Ricchiardi, 2003). "If journalists were not viewed as being objective, every story could be criticized as resulting from one or another journalistic bias" (Gans, 1980, p. 187). Indeed, a recent national survey found more than two thirds of the respondents said they prefer to get news from sources without a particular point of view, compared to only a quarter of the respondents who said they prefer to get news from a source that shares their political viewpoint ("Cable and Internet," 2004). …

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