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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


US Army Perspectives on the Embed Program

Most Army leaders understood the benefits offered by the embedded media program. Colonel Baker, commander of the 2d BCT, 1st AD, observed that Soldiers also needed to talk to the media to make sure their message got out. “Trying to ignore the media by denying them access or refusing to talk,” Baker argued, “can result in the press reporting news that is inaccurate, biased, and frankly counterproductive to the mission.”83 He recognized that the media will get their story somehow, so it was better if the media was embedded and hearing the Army’s side.84 Baker and his team prepared the Soldiers for how to deal with the media in a systematic and deliberate manner. They discovered the types of information reporters needed to know about an incident and quickly provided them basic data. At the same time, they released messages and related stories they thought were important to the media.85 This made it much easier for the press to report the successes in the brigade AOR that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Colonel Stephen Lanza, a 1st CAV brigade commander, also supported the embed program, believing that the Soldier was the Army’s best spokesperson in Iraq:

My attitude was, at the end of the day, the Soldiers are going to tell the story. And the story is going to be good. And you’ve got to accept a little, that there’s going to be things that are going to happen . . . but at the end of the day it tells the story about the Soldiers. So, I’m a big fan of embedded media. If you don’t let them in, you know what, they’re going to tell the story anyway.86

Colonel Michael Tucker, brigade commander of the 1st BCT of the 1st AD, agreed, “If you do not wrap your arms around the media, then you will no longer be able to influence the media. I am a firm believer that if you don’t control the media, it will control you.”87 Tucker asserted that the embedded media actually helped his mission “because, again, I was trying to get the message out. I was trying to send the message that we are not an occupying Army. . . . Having the media with you also gets your Soldiers’ coverage, which is read by their loved ones back home. . . . They told it right.”88

Colonel David Perkins, commander of the 2d BCT of the 3d ID, the unit that executed the “Thunder Runs” into Baghdad in early April 2003, also supported the embedded media program for a variety of reasons, but “the biggest reason is because the story of the American Soldier is a good story. The more in-depth you can talk about the Soldier and the more accurate you can be about it, I’m convinced it is going to be a good story. I just have faith in it. Yes, some knuckleheads are going to do bad things, but the more complete story you can tell about the Soldier, the better it is.”89 Lieutenant General William Wallace, commander of the US Army V Corps in 2003, felt that “embedded media told the story of the Soldier to the nation. Otherwise it would not have been told. The stories filed by the embedded media gave the public something to hold onto at the ‘mom and pop’ level. The embeds gave the people back home the ‘Willie and Joe’ of OIF.”90 Major General John Batiste, the commander of the 1st ID, concurred with these sentiments and added that media involvement was critical to the national war effort, “I was always looking for press to embed and bring on the team because I think it is important that the American people know the truth. The Army does not go to war, America goes to war and the press is the glue which holds it all together.”91 During OIF, the Soldier’s story became so compelling that Time magazine named “The American Soldier” as the 2003 person of the year.

The Army found the embedded media program beneficial in another way. Embedded reporting could, to some degree, counter the false reports being broadcast by certain Arab media outlets.92 However, this type of reporting had to be independent or it would lose all credibility.93 When an inaccurate story was broadcast, the Coalition could not always offer an immediate verification or denial of the account. Using the operational chain of command, it took time for commanders to counter the disinformation and provide the facts. If a false story was released soon after an event and the US military’s verification or denial took hours or days to be released, Iraqis, and often the international and American media, had already accepted the original “false” version of events. Frequently, timely reporting of the facts came from the embedded reporters and photojournalists. Another PA officer stated, “Any propaganda was nullified

when an incident was thoroughly reported by the embeds, which included the background and context for what happened.”94

It was evident to most Soldiers that the program worked well. The media told firsthand accounts of the Soldiers fairly and accurately. In retrospect, the leaders of the 3d ID agreed that the embed program was an overall success:

Neither mission accomplishment nor the integrity of the media was compromised. . . . Embedded media had a more realistic understanding and were more optimistic in their accounts than media who were reporting from the Pentagon, from (CENTCOM) in Qatar, or from Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) in Kuwait. . . . In sum, the embedded media balanced the negative press from reporters outside Iraq.95 Army leaders and Soldiers were eager to have their story told and were particularly pleased with that coverage.

Chapter 7. Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq

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