....Class 05A Operation Iraqi Freedom: Embed / Non-Embed Media Portrays War in Iraq

Literature Overview

The relationship between the military and the news media has seen many seasons; some dry and some fruitful. Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) began a productive season in the long history of embedded journalists. The 2003 invasion of Iraq gave embedded journalists unprecedented access to relatively unrestricted front-line coverage. More than 600 U.S. and foreign journalists embedded with military units and have reported from aircraft carriers, Special Forces units and infantry and Marine divisions (McLane, 2004). Before Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), journalists had never “worked alongside U.S. military units…in such numbers [or] in such an organized fashion” (Knickmeyer, 2003).

The Pentagon’s aggressive and ambitious embedding program was directed by Victoria Clark, a senior spokesperson for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the outset of OIF. She defined the process as, “living, eating, moving, in combat with the unit that [the journalist is] attached to” (DoD News Transcript, 2003). The Department of Defense’s motives for embedding journalists are not clear. There has been much speculation, however. Possible reasons range from using the media as a tool against propaganda to reducing the impact of casualties to ensure public support for the war (Brightman, 2003; Miskin, Rayner, & Lalic, 2003).

Other speculation has been that the Department of Defense knew the effects or influence that embedded reporting has on news coverage. Britain’s experience with embedding during the Falkland’s War against Argentina indicated that journalists develop “feelings of camaraderie that may affect [their] ability to be independent and objective” (Miskin et al., 2003, p.2). The “Stockholm Syndrome,” is the influence on reporters work due to a close relationship with their units (McClane, 2004). Many journalists wrote about their fear of succumbing to this syndrome. “While this closeness did not necessarily prevent them from objective or critical reporting, journalists worried about losing their impartiality” (p. 81).

Although there is speculation of the influence of embedded journalism, the Department of Defense’s support of embedding was most likely motivated by a genuine desire to “facilitate maximum, in-depth coverage of U.S. forces in combat and related operations” as well as giving this access to national and international media (Secretary of Defense, 2003). In an interview with Dick Gordon, from NPR’s The Connection, Brian Whitman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, stated that the Department of Defense was working to close the gap between reporters and the media. He said, “an embedded reporter is going to see the good, the bad, and the ugly” (DoD News Transcript, 2003).

This study sought to determine whether embedding journalists with military units during combat produces different television news reports and, if so, the nature of such differences. In addition, this study investigates whether there are any differences in news stories during the initial invasion and reports more than a year later during the occupation. This study is a follow-up to a previous investigation conducted in early 2004.


Tone of Coverage

Researchers anticipated that embedded coverage would produce news reports that are more favorable toward the military in general and, specifically, toward its personnel. This expectation stems from the fact that embedded journalists become a part of the unit they are reporting about and that, like employees of an organization, embedded reporters would develop a commitment to the military organization.

An explanation for the researchers reasoning is the social penetration theory. It asserts that as relationships develop, people’s communication shift from superficial to deeply personal topics, slowly penetrating the communicators’ public persona to reach their core personality or sense of self. According to the theory developed by Atlman and Taylor (1973), persons allow other people to penetrate their public self when they disclose personal information. Disclosure is based on the perceived rewards the person will gain if he or she discloses information – the larger the reward, the more information is disclosed. To penetrate the military’s public self, reporters embed themselves with the troops.

Another reason why researchers believed that embedded coverage would produce more positive news coverage is because embedded reporters will engage in uncertainty reduction, thus biasing their reporting. In an effort to report an all-encompassing story, an embedded journalist will go through the uncertainty process hypothesized by Berger and Calbrese (1975). First, the reporter must engage in verbal communication while being aware of their nonverbal expressions, which can indicate positive or negative feelings towards the military members. The less a journalist is familiar with the military, the more uncertainty he or she will have when reporting. The more the reporter gets to know the service members he or she is embedded with, the more intimate the conversation will become. Conversely, if there is still uncertainty there will be greater reciprocity between journalists and service members. The uncertainty reduction process will allow a journalist to penetrate the military public self.

Further exploration of the uncertainty reduction theory spawned an extended theory of anxiety-uncertain management (Gudykunst & Hammer, 1988), which also relates to the reporting relationship between the military and embedded journalists. This theory seeks to help explain and model the process of interpersonal interaction during the initial stage of relationship development by examining anxiety as a variable. During the initial stage of interaction between the embedded reporters and the military, anxiety plays a key relational role in the desire and determination to reduce uncertainty among the two groups. This extended theory asserts that as the military and embed members become friends and acquaintances, both anxiety and uncertainty are reduced. Anxiety is incorporated as the affective equivalent of cognitive uncertainty, and as anxiety and uncertainty decrease, there is a correlated increase in affect, hence, the more positive news coverage by the embedded reporters (Gudykunst, Yang, & Nishida, 1985).

H1: Compared to non-embedded coverage, embedded journalists will produce
television reports that are more positive about a) the military as a whole and b) its personnel.

According to Meyer and Allen (1997) there are three components of organizational commitment: affective, continuance, and normative. Affective commitment relates to an attitude or orientation toward the organization, which links or attaches the identity of the person to the organization (Meyer and Allen, 1997). Embedded reporters subjected to the same stresses associated with membership in the military may undergo the process by which the goals of the military and those of the reporter become increasingly integrated or congruent.

However, it is almost impossible to say how this identification with or acceptance of organizational goals and objectives has changed as a result of the embedding process without also looking at that same reporter’s attitudes prior to becoming embedded. In other words, while it appears that there may be several good reasons to suspect an increase in affective commitment, additional research is necessary to support it.
Similar to those employees with strong affective commitment, employees with strong continuance commitment are more likely to remain with an organization than those with a weak commitment.

The reasons for their continued participation are different. Here the employee is looking at costs, and making “side bets” on alternatives or other options. Embedded reporters, except during actual conflict where the “cost” associated with leaving may include death, appear to exhibit no signs associated with continuance commitment. Specifically, negative correlations have been observed between continuance commitment and overall job performance, number of complaints against employees, and supervisor ratings (Allen, 2003). However, embedded reporters do not typically share these same characteristics. This suggests that continuance commitment does not explain why embedded reporters might be inclined to produce television reports that are more positive than those reports submitted by non-embedded reporters.

According to Allen (2003), only a few studies have examined in-role performance indicators to normative commitment. That is, there have been no significant relationships identified between normative commitment and independently rated performance indicators. This makes it hard to establish a link between embedded reporting and normative commitment. However, this area appears to have the most promise if any relationship between organizational commitment and favorable or positive television reports is to be established. This is because normative commitment deals with obligations, or feelings and attitudes that an individual “ought” have and to behave in a certain manner.

Nevertheless, several competing interests, individuals, and organizations vie for a reporter’s notion of what they should or should not do or behave. Professional responsibility, commitment to their sponsoring news organizations, commitment to fellow members of a military unit, and even a belief that one needs to tell the complete story as an American, all compete for the reporter’s sense of what they should do and how they should report.

This investigation posits:
H2: Compared to non-embedded coverage, embedded journalists will produce
television reports that depict stronger organizational commitment.

Nature of Coverage

Researchers expected that embedded television news reports would be structurally different. This expectation assumes that embedded reporters will frame their stories differently, resulting in more affect and positive relational messages.

Iyengar (1991) defines framing as the “subtle alterations in the statement or presentation of judgment and choice problems” (p. 11). Framing is the way a journalist chooses to tell a story, and ultimately results in the way the audience views an issue. Entman (1991) states that “frames reside in the specific properties of the news narrative that encourage those perceiving and thinking about events to develop particular understandings of them. News frames are constructed from and embodied in keywords, metaphors, concepts, symbols, and visual images emphasized in a news narrative” (p. 7).

Iyengar (1991) posits that all television news stories can be classified as either episodic or thematic based on their presentation. The episodic news frame entails a case study or event-oriented report. These are reported in terms of concrete instances. The thematic news frames uses a more general or abstract context. The report is directed at general outcomes or conditions. These frames are not used exclusive but one is usually predominant. Because television news is limited by time, an episodic report is usually preferred over a thematic report.

An episodic report is usually visually compelling and covers the hard facts, while a thematic report requires a more in-depth, interpretive analysis which requires more time.
Iyengar (1991) states that the dominance of episodic framing in television news has been established in a number of studies. An example he gives is “television news coverage of mass-protest movements generally focuses more closely on specific acts of protest than on the issues that gave rise to the protests” (pp. 14-15). Another important factor highlighted by research is that episodic and thematic framing affect how individuals assign responsibility for political issues.

According to Iyengar, “episodic framing tends to elicit individualistic rather than societal attributions of responsibility, while thematic framing has the opposite effect” (pp. 15-16). Cappella and Jamieson (1997) state that “the effects of episodic framing on attributions of responsibility occur through a process of automatic trait attribution implying personal rather than situational responsibility and not a process of retrieval of concrete, specific behaviors portrayed in the news” (p. 84).

Hence, this investigation posits that:

H3: Compared to non-embedded coverage, embedded journalists will
produce television news stories about the military that are more episodic
in nature.

Relational Communication/Affect
This study also posits that embedded news reports will convey more affect and positive relational communication. Relational communication concerns “how two or more people regard each other, regard their relationship, or regard themselves within the context of the relationship” (Burgoon & Hale, 1984, p. 193). Relational communication is an intrinsic facet of all communication, but is more pronounced whenever the communication form makes possible either real (e.g., interpersonal exchanges) or perceived (e.g., television viewing) contact between communicator and receiver (Burgoon, 1980; Burgoon & Hale, 1987). In other words, relational communication is privileged whenever a communication form stresses the visual channel and, in particular, close personal access to a source’s facial cues.

Relational messages can be expressed verbally, but are more often communicated nonverbally (Dillard, Soloman, & Palmer, 1999). Relational communication embodies soft dimensions of persona, including: similarity/depth, consisting of perceptions of similarity, friendliness and caring; receptivity/trust, involving perceptions of sincerity, honesty, an interest in communicating, and a willingness to listen; immediacy/affection, comprising perceptions of warmth, involvement, enthusiasm, and interest; in addition to lesser dimensions (Burgoon & Hale, 1987).

More emphasis on individual service members, including one-on-one interaction with the troops, facilitates perceptions of intimacy, embodying many of the relational message themes described above (e.g., similarity/depth, receptivity/trust, and immediacy/affection). Research indicates that relational communication is more influential in television communication compared to other communication forms (e.g., print, radio, etc.) (Pfau, 1990), and the relational message dimensions of similarity/depth, receptivity/trust, and immediacy/affection exert the greatest influence (Pfau, 1990; Pfau & Kang, 1991; Pfau & Kang, 1993). Therefore, compared to non-embedded new reports, embedded television news stories convey more positive relational communication, that is, more immediacy/affection, receptivity/trust, and similarity/depth.

Because television is the more episodic medium, it should elicit more emotion. As mentioned previously, Iyengar (1991) has found that television news coverage elicits more emotion than print coverage because of its power to draw personal assertions from viewers. Television may be more episodically framed than other media forms by creating emotional accessibility with the viewer. This emotional accessibility may be due to parasocial interactions between television viewers and the subjects of episodically-framed stories, or between the viewers and the reporters. Iyengar (1991) said television is capitalizing on this possibility and that “the dominance of the episodic frame in television news has been established in a number of studies” (p. 14).

Television’s ability to utilize parasocial interactions with its viewers results in its great popularity today. “We Americans trust television news; we see it as authoritative (perhaps because we see it); we have welcomed Huntley, Cronkite, Brokaw and others into our living rooms gladly” (Iyengar & Kinder, 1987, p.1). In addition, television is considered to be America’s single most important source of information about political affairs, and therefore, the public’s perception of political life is mainly what it sees on television (Iyengar, 1991).

Media, particularly television, is a very powerful persuasive tool, and their many forms can have significant impacts on one’s emotional state. In a review of the existing literature about media affects, Zillman (1991) stated that media can help us to unwind or produce excitement. Zillman and colleagues have produced significant and influential research in the field of media affects, specifically, excitation transfer theory and empathy.

Excitation transfer theory begins with the idea of arousal, a feeling that is neither positive nor negative that energizes one’s behavior. Arousal, according to Hebb (1955), does not steer human behavior, whereas, affect has guided human behavior since our inception. Zillman (1971) believes that because arousal is a state of excitement without direction, that a feeling of excitement can be transferred to another stimulus-producing event which does not have to be emotionally related to the initial arousing stimuli. An important finding of Zillman’s work is that the affects of arousal are not long lived. In fact, Zillman (1991) stated that, “residual arousal is likely to dissipate within several minutes after exposure” (p.118).

Thus, this investigation posits that:
H4: Compared to non-embedded journalists, embedded reporters will produce
stories that are a) more affective and b) manifest more positive relational cues.

Researchers also investigated the differences between news coverage during the invasion of Iraq and the occupation of the country. The theories examined in the paper do not provide any reasoning to believe that any such difference may exist. However, the authors believed that real-time events and the on-going coverage of the war may influence the nature of the news coverage. The authors also wonder if there are any major differences among the major television networks and their war coverage.

Therefore, this investigation seeks to answer the following:
RQ1: Does embedding during invasion versus occupation produce more episodic, empathetic, and sympathetic reports?

RQ2: Is there a difference among the major television networks regarding the depiction of tone, episodic framing, and organizational commitment during times of occupation or invasion?

Abstract | Introduction | Literature Overview | Methods
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