Study calls embedding of reporters during Iraq war a success
WASHINGTON — The decision to embed journalists with U.S. military forces at the start of the Iraq war was a success for the military, the media and the American public, according to a study released Tuesday.
Chris Paul, an associate social scientist with the RAND Corp., who wrote the report, said the embedded reporters provided news outlets with an up-close view of the combat, which allowed them to convey more information to the public.
For the military, allowing that access built credibility among the media and their audience, Paul said. By giving reporters uncensored access to the troops, military officials conveyed that they believed the soldiers would come across as professional and noble public servants.
“If [the military] has nothing to hide, they can only benefit from the coverage,” he said. “It really became good public relations.”
The report said that despite conflicting goals in the battlefield — winning the war versus observing and recording the fight — the military and the media developed a respect for each other’s work.
In the past, tension between the two has resulted in distrust and a lack of information on U.S. forces’ progress. Paul said that during the Vietnam War, military leaders would often ignore or mislead news reporters, and the media coverage would voice doubt in official statements from commanders.
Defense department spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable said the goal of the embed program was to make sure the American public was given a full and honest view of operations overseas, and officials believe that was successful.
“If we have any disappointments with the program it’s that the news media has not taken as much advantage of it as they could have,” he said. “Since the end of major combat operations, the numbers have ebbed and flowed.”
During major combat operations more than 500 journalists were embedded with U.S. forces, according to the defense department. More than 100 accompanied troops during the recent fighting in Fallujah.
Aly Colon, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute in Florida, said from a journalistic standpoint the embed program was an opportunity most news organizations had never had before.
“For the first time many reporters were getting a clear and direct picture of exactly what was happening at the front,” he said. “They got to see how life was lived there, see that environment up close.”
Paul said embedding reporters with military units will likely become commonplace in future military conflicts, but thinks that more restrictions will be placed on live reports from the battlefield. In the future enemy troops might be able to use background landmarks, satellite signals or other cues from the live broadcasts to uncover military positions.