Embedded Broadcast Journalists:

Reporting Operation Iraqi Freedom from the Frontline


The military and the media have always been at odds regarding access and how military operations are reported in the news. While the military seeks to protect information for operational reasons, the media wants to report this as news to the public. In an unprecedented move, the Department of Defense initiated a media embed process where select members of the media would be embedded with certain frontline military units during wartime operations. While the media would have access to the front line battlefield, there were ground rules to help protect operational information. Arguments have been raised concerning both sides of embedding policy. While the Department of Defense, commanders, journalists and units on the ground considered the program an overall success, others argued that journalists who are embedded with military units lose their objectivity and become biased in favor of the military unit they are embedded with. This research endeavored to explore this notion.

To investigate the insinuation that embedded journalists lose their objectivity when assigned to units, this investigation measured the impact of embedding and whether this practice changes news reports filed by reporters. Specifically, this study seeks to determine whether reports originating from broadcast journalists embedded with allied forces during the opening days of the ground war of Operation Iraqi Freedom differed from reports filed by non-embedded broadcast journalists.

Our assumption from the beginning was that embedded journalists who traveled and lived with members of the armed forces were assimilated into the military way of life and developed an affinity for the troops they were assigned with. The research looked at how the embedded reporters may have been biased as a result of the consequences of social penetration theory and becoming accustomed to military organizational culture, trust, and identity characteristics. The literature reveiw came to the conclusion, based on anecdotal evidence, that these organizational and social concepts would result in the embedded reporters becoming integrated, trusted team members. As a result, they would probably file news reports with a more positive tone. To prove our anecdotal conclusion our first hypothesis posited that compared to non-embedded reporting, embedded journalist produced more positive coverage of military generally and its personnel.

Our literature review also looked at the degree to which episodic and thematic framing had been used in past crisis situations like the Gulf War and Bosnia. Our research of anecdotal evidence showed that during the Iraq war embedded journalists used mostly episodic framing. To confirm this conclusion our research posited a second hypothesis predicting that compared to non-embedded reporting, embedded journalists produced more episodically-framed stories.

The development of our hypothesis led us to an interesting question concerning the military member’s perception of reporting coverage. While our two hypotheses dealt with general public perception, we wanted to find out what the military members perceived the tone of the coverage was. To accomplish this we posed the following research question, what are the military personnel’s perception of tone of news coverage, their sense of other military member’s perceptions, and their sense of the public’s perception? This research question further led us to the question, how the military was getting their information? To determine the information source we posited a second research question, what was the contribution of specific communication media to the military personnel’s perception?

To accomplish this study, we used two methodologies. We first conducted a content analysis of news broadcasts that aired March 20 to 26, 2003 from four major television networks to assess whether broadcast news coverage differed from embedded and non-embedded journalists. In addition, we conducted a survey was of military members, randomly selected throughout the Department of Defense, to gauge their perceptions of the tone of news coverage.
In general, the result of the content analysis confirmed that film coverage by embedded reporters was more positive toward the military and troops than those of the embedded reporters. Additionally, reports were found to be much more episodic in nature. This result, while not surprising, did bring about another question for follow on research. Was the positive coverage by the embeds a result of loss of objectivity and bias or was it a result of a reporter being more educated on his subject and subsequently providing a more unbiased and honest report? This question is posed for further research.

The surveys administered to military personnel to determine their perceptions of the tone of coverage was found to be generally positive. The surveys also highlighted the fact that the military media was effective in forming that opinion. While some forms of media were much more effective than others, this research did not go to the next level to determine the effectiveness of each media category. This question would be of interest for further research and very useful information to military public affairs.


As is the case with any study, this research project was bounded by some limitations. The limitations identified during the course of this study include: time allotted to complete the study; a lack of experience in conducting scientific analysis of data; the military background of the coders.

From conception of the research topic to final product, the research team only had three weeks to develop research mechanisms, compile and analyze data, and write a report. Because of the short time allotted for this project, the researchers constrained their focus to news broadcasts of four major networks, covering only the newscasts aired during the 5:30 p.m to 6 p.m. time slot over the first few days of the ground war of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This greatly limited the sample size, and excluded news segments that could have delivered more significant data to the study. By expanding the time dedicated to the research product, and expanding the reservoir of available data, future researchers can develop a more substantial and accurate data pool.

The researchers were all novice technicians and their lack of experience was a significant limiting factor. The coders had disparate educational and life experience backgrounds. The personnel assigned to this pivotal position should be practiced and have comparable academic experience and training (Kaid & Wadsworth, 1989). Future researchers should use experienced coders.

A further limitation with the coders was their bias as current or former members of the U.S. military, trained in military public affairs. This link with the military may have biased the coder’s analysis of the news coverage of the military. In future research, coders should be drawn from outside the military environment.

This research project built on previous research conducted on media coverage of embedded printed journalists.

Future research may want to investigate differences or similarities between print and broadcast journalists.