Initially we argue that the tone of stories produced by embedded reporters
should be more positive in tone toward the military than stories produced
by non-embedded journalists. This paper focuses on the relationships that
developed between embedded journalists and their respective military units.
These interpersonal relationships helped foster effective representation
of the units and the military as a whole. To understand why, we offer
three theories drawn from communication literature.
According to Altman, Taylor and Wheeler (1973), Altman and Taylor developed
a theory based on the phrases, do "birds of a feather flock together,"
or do "opposites attract." The two social psychologists study
how relational closeness is developed among individuals. This is where
our project looks at the context of social relationships that are forged
between embedded media and military personal in the field. During the
latest war in Iraq, the Pentagon’s decision to allow journalists
to accompany military units, in essence, made American reporters a de
facto part of the so-called coalition forces. David Carr (2003) said,
“war coverage on the ground, by nature, is a one-side affair.”
In Iraq, journalists literally see the war from the same point of view
as the army that is feeding them both information and rations” (p.
1). A new standard of openness and immediacy has been created for war
The theory of social penetration helps explain one of many ideas
of the way humans respond when relationships reveal more and more information
about themselves. There are many ways to define the social penetration
theory but the central ideal is that relationships begin with relatively
limited breadth and shallow depth and then begin to progress over time
in intensity and intimacy as both breadth and depth increase (Gamble &
Gamble, 1996). The theory refers to the degree of intimacy that guides
topic discussions. Both of these are necessary for a relationship to form.
In order to get to know someone you must self-disclose on a variety of
topics and at some depth in order for a relationship to grow.
According to Heath and Bryant (2000), Altman and Taylor used an “onion”
to model how each disclosure by a partner allows the other partner to
know another “layer” of who they are. The theorists originally
posited on four stages of relational development: orientation, in which
one disclosed very minimal or superficial information about ones self,
exploratory affective exchange, where disclosure of information from a
partner may begin to reveal aspects of their personality and more private
thoughts; affective exchange, in which the “I” starts to become
the “we” in relationships; and stable exchange, which is highly
intimate and can be characterized as a constant openness. Some relationships
may never reach this final stage (Heath & Bryant, 2000). This theory
highlights the development, maintenance, and deterioration of social relationships
(Derlega, Metts, Petronio & Margulis, 1993).
The behavioral process through which depth and breadth of the interaction
can be achieved is self-disclosure. Self-disclosure is the sharing of
information with others that they would not normally know or discover.
Self-disclosure performs several functions. The general model is that
trust is developed and strengthened when both persons self-disclose and
show support for each other’s disclosures (Infante, Rancer &
Womack, 1997). Self-Disclosure, more or less, is defined as what individuals
verbally reveal about themselves to others, which include thoughts, feelings,
and experiences, which plays a major role in close relationships.
The social penetration theory also combines the ideas of rewards and costs
from exchange theory in order to account for evaluation processes in ongoing
relationships (Chelune, 1979). Reported in the New York Times during Operation
Iraqi Freedom, a reporter who had nothing to protect his face against
a 48-hour sandstorm beyond a ripped T-shirt was presented with a gift
of a garment designed to protect his face and neck. Gasoline for reporters’
vehicles is bartered for phone time with loved ones. The uniqueness of
social penetration theory is that it explicates the developmental aspects
of relationships in the context of rewards and cost. According to Chelune
(1979), “Rewards and cost are viewed as the motivational units that
propel relationships through various stages of development and continuous
reciprocity of self-disclosure occurs as long as individuals mutually
experience a favorable reward-cost balance” (p. 114).
Unless the people who share a relationship are able to continue to grow
together and adapt to their continually changing environment, the relationship
may begin to deteriorate at any point. According to the cost-benefit theory,
partners will work to maintain a relationship only as long as the benefits
we perceive for ourselves outweigh the cost (Thibaut & Kelly, 1959).
The greater our rewards and the lower our costs, the more satisfying a
relationship will be. When an individual sees the relationship as being
positive they will continue to become closer with the person.
The outcome of the relationship is directly related to the benefits each
individual receives. Embedded media and military personal will inevitably
develop a relationship while working side by side, which makes this theory
a practical application in interpersonal communications. As a general
framework, relationships will develop as time goes on. These relationships
developed through interpersonal communication will lead to the embedded
reporter becoming part of the military culture.
The organizational culture metaphor used in organizational communication
studies provides a way of thinking about both organization and communication
(Pacanowsky & O'Donnell-Trujillo, 1983). We review organizational
culture to show how embedded journalists become part of the military unit's
culture, which results in more positive press coverage of the military,
unit and personnel compared to unilateral journalists.
The uniformed military is highly unique and in the publics eye "the
uniform indicates a state of authority, which encompasses the power to
forbid, to instruct, to authorize and to punish people" (Soeters,
2000). A person simply has to see the uniform to understand the nature
of the organizational uniqueness. The culture of the military is divided
into three main aspects; the communal life in uniform, a distinct hierarchy,
and a chain of command. Military organizations have two sides, one that
tries to prevent problems and one that responds to a crisis or problem.
These two sides divide the military into two sub-cultures called cold
and hot. The cold organization is the time spent in peace, usually in
garrison, and committed to training and preparing for worst case scenarios.
The hot organization is in the front lines. Soeters (2000) observes that
hot conditions occur when "members have to perform critical dangerous,
violent, ambiguous and hence stressful circumstances" (p. 474). This
hot culture is a primary focus for our study of embedded journalists as
this culture promotes bonding. In a crisis situation, "organizational
members form a strong, cohesive group with a collective mind" (Soeters,
2000). The embedded journalist views and experiences the overall culture
of the military, but is immersed in the hot culture.
According to Fineman (2001), organizational cultures and sub-cultures
bond people emotionally and define the nature and legitimacy of their
emotionality. The aura of emotions during war-time between military members
are easily described by Fineman (2001) as feelings of loyalty, family,
and shared fate that stirs primitive bonding when drama is well scripted
and the props are appropriate, which is relevant in war. This bonding
in war is an inherent part of military culture when lives are at stake,
and this type of emotion may not exist in peacetime.
Pacanowsky & O'Donnell-Trujillo (1983) explain that organizational
members are choice-making individuals in the theatricality of performances.
The notion of "theatricality" in an organization refers to each
organization as a stage and each member as an actor with different parts,
masks and scenes. These members do not conform to behavioral laws within
the organization, but rather act in ways that reflect the social conventions
of other members. This is important when considering the embedded journalist
as a member of a military unit. The journalist reacts and conforms to
the individuals around him in a way to build an esprit de corp. Also,
military units have rituals they perform; for example, manners in which
military members speak and act, and the way they display their character
in a war environment. These rituals orient members temporally introducing
a sense of regularity into the culture. Being participants in these rituals
give the embedded journalist access to a particular sense of a shared
reality, which in turn will bond them to the culture.
Pacanowsky and O'Donnell-Trujillo (1983) also discuss organizational communication
as enculturation, which "refers to those processes by which organizational
members acquire the social knowledge and skills necessary to behave as
component members" (p.143). Some enculturation processes are meant
for the organizational newcomer - the embedded journalist. "These
performances inform newcomers what particular activities should be done,
how such activities should be done, and why such activities should be
done" (p.144). This instills in the journalist both their function
and status in the organizational culture and provides a basis for bonding
to the culture.
Eisenberg and Riley (2001) add that "a person's
identity is not found in behavior or in the reactions of others, but in
the capacity to keep a particular narrative going" (p. 305). The
identity an embedded journalist develops is dependent on the choices he
can or cannot make. This ties in to a differentiation perspective to organizational
reward - communication when individuals may deviate from the norm. Martin
(1992) describes differentiation as being suspicious of organization-wide
cultures that exist and that deviants sometimes are seen as heroes who
go against the organizations desires to conform. Unwillingness to conform
may lead to the deviant being removed from the organization. For example,
Geraldo Rivera, a Fox news journalist, was flown out of Iraq April 1 for
giving away his unit's location (Plante, 2003). This behavior goes against
the culture established for embedded journalists during their indoctrination
into the unit. This personal action could have cost Rivera his life or
the lives of members of the unit and ultimately led to his inability to
keep a dialogue open in the organization's culture after this event.
Organizational communication as politics also plays a role in the embedded
journalist's view of and indoctrination of military culture. Two sub-cultural
self-interests of organizations, personal strength and cementing allies,
help organizations influence others (Pacanowsky & O'Donnell-Trujillo,
1983). Members in an organization display personal strength in many ways,
but the most obvious is the simple command of "do it" and it
is done. This relates to embedded journalists, who must obey the commands
of the military members around them because their life may depend on listening
to the instructions. Cementing allies involves the recruitment and establishment
of a relationship with "loyal" others (Pacanowsky & O'Donnell-Trujillo,
1983, p.142). The embedded journalist fosters this self-interest as a
loyal companion and by doing so must submit to instructions that are intended
to save his and the military members lives. This broad look at organizational
culture presents a justification as to why embedded journalists will produce
more positive news coverage than unilateral journalists. Homophily provides
another explanation as to why embed coverage should be more positive.
There is no one single definition of homophily. However, there are common
characteristics which remain salient throughout. First, homophily constitutes
similarity or likeness between entities. The similarities are in characteristics
such as location, origin, language or race. Second, homophily generally
is used when describing the communicative relationship between people.
That is, people who are similar in sociodemographic backgrounds are more
likely to communicate because they are homophilous (Cook, Mcpherson, &
Smith-Lovin, 2001). The common saying, “birds of a feather flock
together,” represents the elementary definition of homophily (McPherson
and Rotolo, 2001). Conversely, the opposite of homophily would be heterophily
or dissimilarity in persons (Bloch, Cameron, & Yin, 2001).
The conceptual approach to study homophily is to have a better understanding
of why humans communicate better with some and poorly with others. Touhey
(1974) conceptually thought of homophily as the measurement of congruency
between two persons in a dyad. One goal in communication research is to
understand what makes people communicate effectively to one another. As
a concept of similarity, homophily lends itself to understanding communication
on a broader aspect to larger populations (Cook, 2000).
The early studies of contemporary homophily can be traced to Aristotle
and Plato. Aristotle said people love those who are like themselves, while
Plato said, similarity begets friendship. However, homophily as a theory
has been studied formally in the 20th Century to present. Present day
research begins with Lazersfeld and Merton’s (1954) sociological
studies between two small towns. Early studies focused on small groups
and were qualitative in nature. Observations grew into studies of networks
of people and how groups interact with one another (Deseheilds & Kara,
Contemporary studies of homophily tend to be focused on groups rather
than individuals. The research results on a group communicating have a
larger application reach than individual studies. Individual studies,
however, are just as powerful in the political arena. Modern day research
involved such groups as the European Union, entertainment industry, public
education and private industry.
For the purposes of this paper, homophily is a natural choice in theory
application. The nature of the embed process positions reporters eating,
sleeping and sometimes surviving with service members 24/7.
The Social penetration, organizational culture and homophily theories
offer a rationale for our prediction that:
H1: Compared to non-embedded reporting, embedded journalists
produce more positive coverage of a) the military generally, and b) its
Because of the more positive coverage deriving from the embedded journalist's
interpersonal communication, becoming part of the military culture, and
becoming similar to the military personnel they report on, we further
our research on how the articles are then framed for the public's use.
Nature of coverage
We now argue that relationships formed between embedded journalists and
troops will cause the embedded journalists to use more episodic framing
in their stories. To examine this hypothesis, we use priming and framing
concept. Although research projects on priming and framing have routinely
been applied to the study of television news, the concepts can easily
be looked at in the context of print news coverage as well. Both are factors
in media agenda-setting theory, which maintains that, “those problems
that receive prominent attention on the national news become the problems
the viewing public regards as the nation’s most prominent”
(Iyengar & Kinder, 1987, 16). Priming is described by Iyengar and
Kinder as the media’s inclination toward focusing on some aspect
of a problem while scarcely covering other sides of the issue. The priming
effect influences how the public judges an issue, and whom to blame, if
any is due, is assigned to the players. Framing is how a news organization
decides to cover an issue, normally relying on subtle differences in wording
and placement and choice of stories that will be covered (Iyengar, 1991).
The huge impact the media has on how society responds to issues cannot
be understated. With so many news sources available, the public needs
some way to make sense of issues important to them. What messages news
consumers process and what messages they ignore is determined by several
factors including interest in a topic, uncertainty and effort required
to properly evaluate the received message (Weaver, 1991). These factors,
though not an exhaustive list, give insight on how the presentation of
an issue may impact how the consumer perceives the particulars of the
issue. Priming and framing deal with how information is disseminated.
The way a story is framed is relevant to how a story is told and how the
public perceives the information.
News stories can be classified into two distinct framing categories –
episodic and thematic. Episodic framing takes a “case study or event-oriented
report and depicts issues in terms of concrete instances”(Iyengar,
1991, p. 141). For example, a single murder or a car-accident story could
be classified as episodic in framing. Thematic framing covers the underlying
general issues and background of a story rather than presenting it as
a quick-hit, one-time event (Iyengar, 1991). Examples of thematic framing
are stories about the economy, crime in the nation or health care issues.
According to Iyengar (1991), while most stories contain an element of
both, episodic framing, which may lead to uneven understanding of issues
in their entirety, tends to dominate coverage.
Most priming and framing studies have focused on how news media present
social and political issues and how the techniques are used during political
campaigns. Iyengar (1991) used the issues of crime, terrorism, poverty,
unemployment, racial inequality and the Iran-Contra affair. The obvious
present-day issue stems from how embedded journalists in Operation Iraqi
Freedom cover as compared to reports on earlier conflicts involving U.S.
military action. The other conflicts chosen for this study are 2002’s
Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and the first Gulf War of 1991.
The war has impacted most of the American public directly and extensive
news coverage from embedded reporters allows for a thorough study of how
the news was presented. As a result of the closeness and bonds that develop
between embedded journalists and military personnel, and the considering
the tenants of framing, we predict that:
H2: Compared to non-embedded coverage,
embedded journalist articles about the military, units, and personnel
are more episodic in nature.