Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Journalists Set to Bunk Down with Armed Forces

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Journalists Set to Bunk Down with Armed Forces

Article excerpt

All correspondents who sign up for a hitch with Uncle Sam & Co. must pledge to follow house rules

As news outlets found out last week how many journalists they can embed with military units in Iraq, some observers questioned whether linking reporters so closely with troops could present ethical problems. Meanwhile, a detailed list of military restrictions on embedded reporters, first obtained by E&P, reveals that journalists -- who literally have to sign on the dotted line to earn embedded status -- must agree to strict official control.

"We've tried to ensure coverage in-depth, which means units that are most likely to see combat get good, meaningful newspaper coverage, TV coverage, and other broadcast coverage," said Col. Jay DeFrank, director of press operations for the Defense Department. "It is not based on the safety of the units."

More than 500 journalists will be embedded with troops involved in the expected invasion of Iraq, said DeFrank. He said the number could fluctuate as units are deployed and as access for reporters in different countries changes. "The journalists still have to get approval into the countries," he said. "Some may shut them out."

Newspapers, because of their sheer numbers, won the most slots, with larger papers being allowed to embed the most people. "The overwhelming majority of [American] units will have reporters," DeFrank said. He said that most of the papers requesting assignments to military units from their home areas had those requests met. Although all journalists will have to abide by basic "ground rules" for travel with the units -- including a pledge to not go off in their own vehicles, according to the military document obtained by E&P -- each commander will have the flexibility to restrict access based on need. "We can't jeopardize the safety of the journalist or the success of the mission," DeFrank said.

While most editors praise the Pentagon for allowing access, many are concerned about how much reporters will be allowed to report. Some observers have criticized the practice of linking reporters with troops as possibly creating a conflict of interest. "Your desire is to be where the story is, but you must remain constantly alert to how it is affecting you," said Keith Woods, who teaches ethics at the Poynter Institute in St. …

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