For the first time in the history of war journalism, the Department of Defense adopted a policy of “embedding” during the recent war with Iraq. Under this system, more than 600 American and foreign reporters were assigned to U.S. and British combat units in order to allow first hand, front line media coverage of the war. Embedding has allowed news outlets the opportunity to provide real time coverage to viewers around the world, and has given correspondents the opportunity to see the war from the perspective of combat troops.
While applauded by some news organizations, embedding has drawn fire from critics of the policy who argue that this type of war coverage is conducted at the cost of professional detachment and objectivity. The argument against embedding revolves around the idea that embedded journalists become so involved and dependent upon the unit they are embedded with that their coverage will be slanted by a sympathetic viewpoint in favor of the troops. David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times (2003) notes that critics have asserted that accuracy may suffer from this policy; that the reporters would be co-opted into being little more than a part of the military’s propaganda campaign. Further, the embed system will only allow for a narrow, episodic view of the war, or seeing the battlefield through “a soda straw,” rather than providing an overall view of the conflict, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism (2003).
How has the media embed program affected news coverage? Researchers conducted this project to determine the effect of embedding on the focus and tone of war coverage. Other conflicts were reviewed in this case study where reporting was largely conducted through military media pools or unilateral reporting. Our research showed that there was a definite, demonstrable difference between the tone, tenor, and focus of news stories submitted by journalists embedded with U.S. and British combat forces and stories submitted by press pool or unilateral reporters.