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Press, military laud embedded media

Jim Garamone

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2003 — For the past week, the world has had unprecedented access to the combat zone in Iraq.

More than 500 reporters from all sorts of news organizations are “embedded” with units from all services.

First reports of the process have been positive. “So far, the embedding seems to have gone very well,” said Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. “Americans and people around the world are seeing firsthand the wonderful dedication and discipline of the coalition forces.”

The process has advantages. First, the reporters and news organizations get access. They get the stories out quickly and send them directly to their news organizations. Reporters have rules they understand before they go into the field. They know not to give away any data that could be helpful to the enemy.

“Embedded reporters and news organizations are trying hard to cover the war while protecting operational security and the safety of the people involved,” Clarke said. “We have had very few problems thus far.”

Kathryn Kross, CNN’s Washington Bureau chief, agrees. “Overall, it’s going very well,” she said during a phone interview. “There are little hitches in the process, but the Pentagon people have worked with us to solve them. Of course, it’s still early in the process.”

Kross said CNN’s embedded reporters have been pleased with the access they have gained. They have also enjoyed the cooperation they have received from local commanders, she added.

Embedding has a secondary effect. DoD officials believe that once reporters get to meet, speak and live with military people, they will have a greater appreciation of them and the things they go through.

This is an epic change. Since the Vietnam War, reporters have had severely curtailed media access to the men and women of the armed forces.

Joe Galloway, the co-author of “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young,” spoke about the subject with the Naval Institute’s magazine “Proceedings.”

“What always needs to be built — and it has to be built slowly and over time — is a level of trust,” he said. “The only way you can do this is to let the young reporters walk beside the young lieutenants in any war we fight.

“If you do this, they will come out with a bond stronger than any known to man. It’s just natural. And the reporters will come out with a knowledge deep enough and strong enough so they can do their jobs without creating risk or danger to those they cover. That would be the last thing they would want to do.”

The immediacy of the reporting also has consequences not foreseen. During a briefing March 25, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld touched on the changes. During World War II, he said, there was no television and most people received their news from radio or newspapers.

The Movietone News reels, played in movie theaters, were the source of moving pictures of the war, and they were weeks or months old.

“And now what we’re seeing is every second, another slice of what’s actually happening out there,” Rumsfeld said. “It is a breathtaking sight to see it. It tends to be all accurate, but not in an overall context.”

And it leaves people with the impression that the war has “been going on for days and weeks and months” and not just five days, he said.

There are limits to what embedding can show. Embedded reporters cover what they see. They are great at getting a company or battalion look at the war. One battalion could be charging toward Baghdad. Another, 10 miles away, could be involved in a firefight. Still another battalion could be waiting for something to happen.

Someone needs to present the larger picture because the overall picture is missing from embedded reports. Briefers at higher headquarters — U.S. Central Command and the Pentagon — are needed to stitch those snapshots together into a coherent mosaic, DoD officials said.

Kross touched on that. She said that the television images are often “compelling,” but may not add to the story. She said in 24-hour coverage, reporters must place these images in context. “It’s one of the most daunting tasks we face,” she said.

She called the embedding process an “incredibly ambitious” plan, and said she was pleased it has worked out so well. Military officials also voice optimism on the program.

Getting the media onto the battlefield has been a historic event, Air Force Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart, operations chief at U.S. Central Command, said during a March 25 briefing.

“I think most of the commanders who have embedded correspondents out there with them are very comfortable with them. I think they have been supportive of them,” he said. “So, I think it’s something we’ve had to adapt to, but I think we have adapted pretty well, and we’ll continue to have the media with us.”