Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the U.S.-led effort to unseat Iraq’s Saddam Hussein’s regime, was unique in many ways—not the least of which was they way the Department of Defense (DoD) used the concept of embedded journalism to cover the conflict. Embedded journalists gave the American people a first-hand, virtually real-time, account of the combat operations.
This study examines how media embedding affected print news coverage of the war in Iraq. Specifically, this study compares the coverage of embedded and non-embedded journalists during the first 21 days of the conflict and 21 days during the occupation phase. Previous research by Pfau, Haigh, Gettle, Donnelly, Scott, Warr, and Wittenberg (2004) looked the differences in newspaper coverage between embedded and non-embedded reporters during the first five days of OIF. Pfau et. al (2004) also compared coverage of OIF to Operations Desert Strom and Enduring Freedom. They found that embedded journalists covered the conflict in a more positive way than did their non-embedded counterparts. There was no difference in the tone of coverage among the three conflicts studied. (Pfau et. al, 2004)
Pfau, Haigh, Logsdon, Perrine, Baldwin, Breitenfeldt, Cesar, Dearden, Kuntz, Montalvo, Roberts, and Romero (in press) built upon Pfau et. al (2004) by examining the impact of embedding on the tone and structure of television coverage of OIF. They found that the television stories done by embedded reporters were more favorable towards and conveyed greater trust in the U.S. military (Pfau et. al, in press). They also found that television news reports featured more episodic versus thematic frames (Pfau et. al, in press).
The current study seeks to expand upon these studies by examining the effects of embedding on the newspaper coverage of the first 21 days of the war and 21 days of subsequent occupation. Specifically this study looks at the tone of newspaper coverage, trustworthiness of military personnel, affect, and authoritativeness of news reports.
The next section is a brief history of military-media relations and the embedded program specifically. The literature review looks at applicable research used in developing hypotheses. Methods, results, and discussion follow the literature review.
Military-Media Relations
The U.S. military and the media have had a long—and sometimes contentious—relationship. For as long as the U.S. military has fought wars the media have been covering them. Many viewed Operation Desert Storm as a major turning point in military-media relations. The media were very unhappy with the access they were given and subsequent coverage. During post-Desert Storm negotiations, the military and media agreed upon the DoD Principles of Information to govern the news coverage of future conflicts (See Appendix XXX). Despite use of these principles in combat operations in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, the media still sought greater access to military operations. Victoria Clarke, then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, in conjunction with news executives, developed the embedding program implemented during operations in support of the Global War on Terror.
DoD recognized that there were advantages to having reporters embed with military units. According to Brian Whitman, then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, it was an opportunity to “build up the relationships, build up the trust, to build up the basis of reporting, to understand the unit standard operating procedures (SOPs), and how it operates, all of those kinds of things” (2003, January). Further, DoD wanted to counter misinformation that would be spread by Saddam Hussein’s regime following a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. As Whitman (2003, April) stated, “So one of the ways that you mitigate [the misinformation and disinformation], we felt, was that you put trained, objective observers on the battlefield to witness what’s going on, and I think most reporters would consider themselves trained, and technical observers.”
The other reason DoD wanted to use embedded media was to showcase U.S. service members to the American public. According to Whitman, “We also believed Americans deserved to see exactly well trained their military forces were, how dedicated and professional” (Purdum & Rutenberg, 2003, p. B3.
DoD first implemented its new embedding program with Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in 2002 and then with Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Embedding allows reporters unfettered access to combat operations and the opportunity to experience war much the same way that service members do. “Embedding means living, eating, moving, in combat with the unit you’re attached to” (Whitman, 2003). In addition to the embedded reporters, non-embedded (or unilateral) reporters also covered operations in Iraq. Unilateral reporters had varying degrees of attachment to the units they covered. Some traveled with units and had the same access to operations and military personnel as the embedded reporters, while some traveled independently of the military.