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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part II

Transition to a New Campaign

Chapter 7
Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq


Embedded Reporting

Perhaps the best known and most successful PA innovation during OIF was the embedding process. Embedding reporters with the military is a practice that has its modern origins in the Crimean War between Great Britain and Russia in the 1850s when the London Times dispatched William Howard Russell to report on the war. In the United States the relationship between the military and the press has evolved slowly. The interactions between the media and the military has swung back and forth from adversarial to cooperative, with a recent trend toward much greater cooperation. In the American Civil War, censorship by the Government and opposition from military leaders prevented much of the criticism of military leadership, though reporters on both sides of the war, using new technology such as the camera and the telegraph, still managed to report “from the front” even if they were not “embedded.”72

This adversarial relationship became more cooperative in World War I. During that conflict, British authorities banned reporters completely from the war zone, while the Americans inducted reporters into the US military and gave them access to the front while censoring what they published. The US policy of inducting military reporters continued in World War II, though President Franklin D. Roosevelt imposed strict censorship. Ernie Pyle and Joe Rosenthal are only two examples of many journalists whose work became famous throughout the war. The Roosevelt administration also practiced IO, targeting domestic morale with multiple programs. The Army’s own publications, such as Stars & Stripes and Yank and its radio stations, provided news to servicemen for the same purpose.

The media-military relationship turned decidedly hostile during the Vietnam war. The Government imposed little in the way of battlefield censorship while reporters had almost unrestricted access in Vietnam. For the first time the media used television to report directly to the American people. The experience profoundly affected both the media and the military. Most media organizations saw this as the “standard” approach that ought to be used. Many within the Government, the military, and the American public saw the media coverage differently, blaming it for undermining the war effort.

This conflict shaped official policy in the decades following the Vietnam war. The US Government prevented all media access to operations during the 1983 invasion of Grenada, much to the dismay of the media though without much public outcry. In response to the media outrage, a military commission created the idea of the military press pool. Under the pool concept, selected members of the media would be allowed to travel to the war zone under conditions tightly controlled by the military, but with the goal of providing them much greater access than before. For some in the military, the press pools presented an important means of telling the American public about its all-volunteer force created after Vietnam.

The first use of the press pool concept took place during the US invasion of Panama in 1989. The media deemed it a failure because reporters were not given access to operations in real time and they had difficulties getting their stories released quickly. Despite these concerns, the press pool policy continued during Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM in 1990–91 on an expanded scale. Instead of the pool of 8 journalists used in Panama in 1989, the Gulf War pool consisted of 1,500 journalists.73 General Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander of CENTCOM, made famous by his iconic approach to media briefings, wrote in his autobiography that he believed it was crucial not to “repeat the mistake we made in Grenada, where the military had stonewalled [the media].”74 The Army had indeed succeeded in preventing the media from leaking any information about its audacious sweeping attack around the main Iraqi defenses in Kuwait by limiting pool reporters’ access to certain units. However, many officers argued that the Army had actually suffered from this decision because it caused a serious dearth of stories about the skill and heroism of its Soldiers in battle.

New technology and new realities coming out of the Gulf War opened a new era in military–media relations. Live war coverage had made its debut during that conflict as reporters made use of satellite coverage for the first time, a major milestone that heralded a new era in war reporting during the information age. US and international media organizations had the ability to report on conflicts in real time, with or without military assistance. The satellite era, combined with the rise of many non-US media organizations in the developing world and in Muslim countries in particular—some friendly to US interests but many who were not—created an environment in which the US military would have to “compete” to get its version of the story to a broad audience. The US Army sought coverage of its operations because it rightly believed its Soldiers were performing well in the service of their country. The US Government likewise began to realize that, in the information age, information itself was an increasingly important if not critical component of US power.

Military operations in Bosnia and Kosovo in the late 1990s saw the first use of the term “embedded press,” describing reporters who “were assigned to a unit and lived with the unit through operations” usually for about a month.75 Though some feared the security risks of media being present before and during operations, most media figures proved responsive to the imperatives of OPSEC. However, far outweighing those risks was the belief inside the military that the more the American public knew about Soldiers’ missions and performance, the greater their support would be. By the time the US Government began planning for OIF, the DOD and the Army understood the importance of news coverage in supporting military objectives, and believed that providing the media easy access to military units during operations was the proper approach.

Chapter 7. Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq

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