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


This investigation explored whether embedding journalists with military units in wartime produces television news reports that are different and, if so, how. Specifically, it investigated whether embedded television news reports were more positive in their depiction of the military and whether embedded reports were structurally different: employing more episodic news frames and, as a result, featuring more positive affect and, when troops were shown, more positive relational communication. To test our various hypotheses, a content analysis was conducted of network news reports during both the initial invasion and later ccupation of OIF.

A variety of communication theories have been presented that suggest embedded journalists produce more positive coverage of the military and its personnel, that these journalists would have developed organizational commitment, that their coverage would be more episodic, and have increased levels of affect and positive relational messages. Results of this comprehensive content analysis show that embedded television reporters do indeed produce more positive-stories and used more episodic framing in their war coverage compared to non-embedded reporters.

However, insufficient data was collected to determine if stories produced by embedded reporters produced more positive relational messages. Additionally, the results only partially supported the hypotheses that interviews of military personnel conducted by embedded reporters elicited more positive affect. Finally, two additional research questions found that the tone of coverage differed between the invasion and occupation, and that there was a difference in several dependent variables across network newscasts.

The results indicated that, according to social penetration theory, embedded television news reporters were more favorable toward the military compared to non-embedded reporters, which is as expected since embedding inherently makes journalists members of the assigned military unit. Consequently, these journalists come to better know the troops they are covering and then develop a more favorable attitude toward the military generally and toward individual soldiers, especially those that she or he covers more specifically.

The unique aspects of military service, such as frequent relocations, temporary duty assignments (including deployments away from family members), and selflessness in the execution of often life-threatening duties, makes organizational commitment an extremely beneficial characteristic. The study shows that embedded reporters develop certain aspects of organizational commitment, while not incorporating others. Embedded reporters subjected to the same stresses associated with membership in the military, may undergo the process by which the goals of the military those of the reporter become increasingly integrated or congruent.

That is, there have been no significant relationships identified between commitment and independently observable variables other than performance indicators. This makes it hard to establish a link between embedded reporting and organization commitment. However, this area appears to have the most promise if we are to establish any relationship between organizational commitment and favorable or positive television reports. This is because normative commitment deals with obligations, or feelings and attitudes that an individual “ought” to behavior in a certain manner. But several competing interests, individuals, and organizations vie for a reporter’s notion of what they should or should not do or behave. Here, professional responsibility, commitment to their sponsoring news organizations, commitment to fellow members of a military unit that often provide essential administrative and logistical support, and even an belief that one needs to tell the complete story as an American, all compete for the reporters sense of what they should do and how they should report.

Additionally, even though the study covered two separate phases, the results confirmed that embedded reporters package their stories more episodically. Episodic frames “focus more closely on specific acts” (Iyengar, 1991, p. 14). Because embedded reporters eat and sleep with service members, they are able to produce a more personal story. The episodic framing of embedded reporters suggests a structural difference from non-embedded reporters and the results support this conclusion.
While this investigation predicted that embedded reporters would produce more affective stories and stories that demonstrated more positive relational cues, the data only partially supported this hypothesis in that there was significant difference found on the emotion of happiness. Results for contentment showed only a marginal significance. This indicates embedded reports contained more positive emotional content.

Lastly, two research questions reveal that the differences between the variables under study themselves experience differences over time. That is to say, although embedded reports are different from non-embedded reports, these differences remained statistically significant when measured during the initial invasion and during later broadcasts during the occupation, and in many cases shown to increase over time. A second question also shows that these differences manifest themselves differently across the various networks evaluated. Specifically, CBS was found to project a more positive tone and greater episodic framing than the others, while CNN, was the least positive among those networks evaluated.

Hence, embedded television news reports were structurally different from non-embedded reports. The observable differences included a more positive tone, an increase in the depiction of trustworthiness, more episodic frames, slightly greater positive affect, and an increase in organizational commitment. Moreover, although the overall results of this study are promising, they reveal several deficiencies and disadvantages of the various scales used to measure the constructs identified by the dependent variables under study. For example, imperfect representation of affective and nominative commitment results from simply a content analysis of news broadcasts – rather these constructs are typically measured using a self-reporting survey or questionnaire. Rather, the coders had to estimate the level of commitment of the various journalists based upon verbal and visual cues.

During the occupation and invasion, non-embedded reporters filed reports from Baghdad, the Pentagon and other locations in Iraq and the United States using sound bites and video footage submitted by embedded reporters and videographers. This resulted in non-embed reports taking on characteristics of news stories filed by embedded reporters. Though the reporters were detached from the servicemen and women in their stories, the sound bites and video taken from embedded reporters and videographers made their stories seem more relational with the military. The results of all hypotheses four have been more significant if the stories by non-embedded reporters using segments from embedded reporters and videographers were separated from non-embedded reporters who did not use segments from embedded reporters and videographers. Future studies should include a measure that examines the difference between news stories from non-embedded reporters with and without segments from embedded reporters and videographers.

Another limitation was coders being emotionally detached while viewing the stories, primarily because they were looking at the stories critically instead of viewing the stories as they were intended to be received. Stories were viewed back-to-back for many hours at a time and objectivity may have been lost due to the monotony. Positive emotions such as happiness and contentment were the only emotions associated with significant results. Future studies should include some negative emotions such as anger, sadness, and resentment on the coding instrument.

Because all coders are active duty military members, defensive feelings may have affected coding objectively. The study could benefit from research using non-military members to code news stories rather than those who are part of the organizational culture of the military.