Pros and Cons of Embedded Journalism, 3/27/03
A partnership between the military and the media has changed the nature of war journalism.
New rules in a
The new arrangement
was formed out of meetings between the heads of news organizations and
the Defense Department officials aimed at allowing journalists to report
on war with the least possible danger.
In addition, the commander
of an embedded journalist's unit can declare a 'blackout,' meaning the
reporter is prohibited from filing stories via satellite connection. The
blackouts are called for security reasons, as a satellite communication
could tip off a unit's location to enemy forces, the Pentagon explains.
slice of the war"
At the beginning of
the experiment, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called the embedding
of journalists "historic," but cautioned that the close-up view
is not always complete.
"What we are
seeing is not the war in Iraq; what we're seeing are slices of the war
in Iraq," he said.
Thus far, editors of many large papers are pleased with the quality of journalism coming from embedded journalists, according to Editor and Publisher magazine. Susan Stevenson of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said the embedded reporters give a "sense of immediacy and humanity" that make the stories very real. "From what a blinding sandstorm feels like to reporting how one of our embeds broke his unit's coffee pot, we're giving readers a better sense of the field."
How embedding can distort
However there have been instances when the embedded reporters transmitted inaccurate information. On Wednesday, embedded correspondents for several news organizations reported seeing a convoy of up to 120 Iraqi tanks leaving the southern city of Basra, and most news outlets reported a large troop movement.
The next day, a spokesman for the British military said the "massive movement" was really just 14 tanks.
journalism professors have warned that the embedding process can distort
war coverage. Syracuse University Professor Robert Thompson warns, "When
you are part of the troops that you're going in with, these are your fellow
human beings. You are being potentially shot at together, and I think
there is a sense that you become part of that group in a way that a journalist
doesn't necessarily want to be."
Final results unknown
The results of the
embedding experiment will not be known for some time. Bob Steele, from
the Poynter Institute, an organization for journalists, says the access
"has allowed reporters and photographers to get closer to understanding
(the complexities of war), to tell the stories of fear and competence,
to tell the stories of skill and confusion. I think that's healthy."
But, Steele cautioned
that while "closeness can breed understanding," journalists
must remain objective and not write about "we" or "our,"
but about "they."
"There's nothing wrong with having respect in our hearts for the men and women who are fighting this war, or respect for the men and women who are marching in the anti-war protests. The key is to make sure those beliefs don't color reporting," Steele said.