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Fighting Words: An Iraq War Glossary defines Embedded reporter as "A journalist traveling with troops and reporting from the battlefield. The 2003 Iraq war was the first time embeds were used. Pros: unprecedented media access to the front. Cons: lack of distance and independence between reporters and their protectors. A unilateral was a reporter unattached to a military unit."

The common use of the adjective embedded, according to Dictionary.com, is to be

  • 1: enclosed firmly in a surrounding mass; "found pebbles embedded in the silt"; "stone containing many embedded fossils"; "peach and plum seeds embedded in a sweet edible pulp"
  • 2: inserted as an integral part of a surrounding whole; "confused by the embedded Latin quotations"; "an embedded subordinate clause"

Gina Cavallaro, who's traveled to Iraq four times to report for the Army Times, has mixed feelings about embedding journalists. "The media is afraid ... and rightly so," she told The Hill. "They're relying more on the military to get them where they want to go, and as a result, the military is getting smarter about getting its own story told." But, she added, "I don't necessarily consider that a bad thing." Iraq War veteran Paul Rickhoff, who started Operation Truth "to tell the public the truth of the war from a soldier's perspective," feels that "embedding reporters actually limits the stories they can tell." If reporters don't "play along," he said, "next time they'll deny you access." [1]

Military censorship

As an illustration of the control exerted over embedded reporters, the U.S. Coalition Forces Land Component Command in Kuwait pulled the credentials of two embedded journalists from the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia, reportedly for publishing a picture of a bullet-ridden Humvee parked in a Kuwaiti camp. [2]

Military officials said the picture violated embed rules, although "the journalists had been escorted by military personnel to a compound where the vehicles were located." The president of the organization Military Reporters and Editors protested the decision. "Our job is not to be stooges of the administration or the Pentagon and be complicit in their attempt to manage the news," he said. "We are here to tell our readers about the war." The group plans to urge the Pentagon to review its embed rules next year.

Issues arising due to embedding

  1. Who sets the agenda? Meaningful reporting requires a journalist's capability to ask questions and a means of addressing them. When a journalists are embedded both the questions and the means are determined by the military propagandist.
  2. Neutrality of the professionals. A journalist is supposed to hold a relatively neutral stance, and not become partisan. However, when the military views journalists as "force multipliers" selling their wars, when journalists begin to report almost exclusively from the military side, and when journalists even point out enemy positions to the military, then journalists themselves become legitimate targets. Furthermore, ethical issues arise when a journalist attached to the military questions persons at the receiving end of the military onslaught. Should journalists interivew, say, Iraqis, when the military are standing behind them or can obtain the recording?
  3. Censorship. To become an embedded journalist a contract is signed giving the military control over the output of the journalist – total censorship.
  4. Enhancing the credibility of propagandists. Hidden among the embedded reporters in the US-Iraq 2003 war were military propagandists posing as civilian journalists. The military used the embedded system to improve the credibility and visibility of some of the propaganda pieces of their personnel.
  5. Who are they in bed with? While it may be legitimate for some journalists to report from amid military ranks, the issue of who is chosen to report is determined by the military. During the US-Iraq 2003 war several journalists from unlikely and dubious sources were also entered into the embed system. One film crew and journalist from MTV; several journalists from right-wing newspapers... The addition of the latter into a group of legitimate journalists enhances their standing and tarnishes the image of the legitimate group.

Alternative interpretations

It is amusing to note that most embedded "journalists" thought they were performing a valuable role during the US-Iraq 2003 War. However this may be a more accurate assessment:

Ah! the embedded journalists The word embedded itself suggests a carnal relationship with the Pentagon. Questions arise about who is using whom, and about the journalists' integrity while riding along in a tank. Any illusions of retaining independence are entirely dispensed with. In fact, the Pentagon used the embedded journalists, and not the other way around. NB: the Pentagon views the media as a "force multiplier". These journalists were stitched onto the military machine to sell its war, and perhaps unwittingly they became part of the machine. As Tony Jenkins, President of the UN Correspondents Association, recently remarked about the embedded journalists: "But boy were they played like a musical instrument by the Pentagon." Or Kenneth Bacon, a former Pentagon spokesman, wrote in the Wall Street Journal recently that: "You couldn't hire actors to do as good a job as the press has done" from the Pentagon's point of view.[3]

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