|Ever-increasing competition in the
news media industry, technology that brings events to the public instantaneously,
and an ever-cycling 24-hour news day has made the need to be on the scene
as news happens the most important part of a successful media organization.
Recognizing not only the media’s requirements, but also the desire
of the American people to have timely, accurate reports from the battlefield,
the United States Department of Defense instituted a policy of embedding
hundreds of journalists with combat units during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
While embedding has been practiced to some degree in most U.S. military
engagements in our history – how many history buffs don’t know
the name, Ernie Pyle, or haven’t seen the footage of the landing at
Normandy -- the scale and scope of this endeavor in Operation Iraqi Freedom
Every major news organization in the country and many foreign outlets took the DoD up on its offer to allow journalists to be absorbed into units in all branches of the armed forces during combat operations, an undertaking costing participating outlets nearly $100 million (Harper, 2003). In all, there were 662 American and foreign journalists embedded with U.S. and British troops when Operation Iraqi Freedom began (Ostrow, 2003).
This policy added a new dimension to U.S. combat operation planning and allowed reporters a first-hand, up-close view of a variety of missions previously unattainable by unilateral and pool reporters. Unit commanders were directed to allow embedded reporters great latitude on the types of missions they were permitted to accompany troops on, resulting in some intense and harrowing coverage of real-time combat never before seen in the history of warfare. "It's exceeded my expectations and has been a lot more informative and balanced and journalistic than I'd anticipated. And, it's certainly a huge improvement on the first Gulf War reporting conditions,” said Matthew Fisher, the lone embed from Canadian media conglomerate CanWest Global Television, embedded with U.S. Marines (McLeod, 2003).
Though the Department of Defense’s Public Affairs Guidance concerning embedding stated its goals as providing “the factual story – good or bad – before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions,” some people, even organizations who participated in the embed program, have criticized the practice as an attempt by the U.S. government to sanitize, and even determine the nature of, the coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Some have commented that reporters being absorbed into the culture of the units and services necessarily taints the objectivity that journalists are theoretically bound to uphold, describing embedded journalists as suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome” while in the “Pentagon’s grip” (Grossman, 2003). Others though, view embedding more positively, arguing that reporters directly involved in the action can provide a more trenchant account of events by shedding the inevitable speculation given rise to by keeping the more-present-than-ever press at arms distance. As explained in one report: “Stories from embedded reporters were often the centerpiece of television coverage, bringing the sights and sounds of war home with immediacy” (Bauder, 2003).
Predictably, with Saddam’s toppled statue not yet cool after being dragged through downtown Baghdad by jubilant, liberated Iraqis, evaluators from all camps have come out in full force to assess the effectiveness of embedded media coverage. Even without the full after-action report yet in hand, from the Pentagon’s vantage point, the embed policy seems to have been a success. Former head of Pentagon Public Affairs Victoria Clarke said, “…people around the world got to see the U.S. military in a very real and compelling way…they saw the compassion with which they prosecuted this war.” Clarke added, “…again the world saw the horrors and atrocities of the Iraqi regime. It is far more powerful…for news organizations around the world to demonstrate that exact point to their viewers, listeners and readers” (in Halonen, 2003).
Others were not so convinced. A Boston Globe op-ed columnist opined:
Factual information from journalists in the first days of the war has come overwhelmingly from government briefings and reporters “embedded” in military units. Such briefings are never a source of trustworthy news; reporters have few ways to verify what the military officers and government officials tell them, and history suggests we should expect officials to omit crucial information and fudge on facts (Jensen, 2003, p. A19).
Obviously, there are widely divergent views on the wisdom of embedding journalists and the accuracy of reports from those sources.
Our study seeks to determine whether the accounts and reports originating from these embedded Operation Iraqi Freedom journalists differed from stories written by unilateral and pool reporters in other recent conflicts – Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Desert Storm. The assumption is that stories from embedded reporters, who have gotten to know individual troops, been indoctrinated into the service cultures and established a rapport and commonality with the men and women they “served” with during the conflict would result in stories with more positive tone and more episodic framing. In this study, a content analysis was conducted of print stories from four major newspapers in an effort to assess whether embedded coverage differed from unilateral and pool coverage.